Saturday, January 23, 2016

January 22: Curse of the City, Fearless, Terry Godbey, "Descent"

Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies.  It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people--the novelist's world, not the poet's.  I've lived there.  I remember what the city has to offer:  human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained.  I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, "next year . . . I'll start living; next year . . . I'll start my life."  Innocence is a better world.

I love that Annie Dillard says that self-consciousness is a glimpse of "the novelist's world, not the poet's."  The novelist, with a wider canvas and more space and time, lives in a fictional city, surrounded by faces and storefront windows.  More opportunity for reflections.  The poet, however, lives in a cave on top of a mountain.  In a tent on the edge of a volcano.  In a cabin on the banks of Tinker Creek.  Singular.  Alone.  Innocent.

I think I spend way too much time worrying about people's opinions of me.  In the medical office where I work, I feel scrutinized.  Constantly.  How many phone calls I answer.  How many patients I register.  How much money I collect.  How many registration forms I scan.  How much time I spend answering, registering, collecting, and scanning.  At the university, I get observed by a full-time professor every fall; evaluated by students at the end of every semester; ranked by another group of full-timers every winter.  Someone is looking over my shoulder all day, every day.

I think that's why I write poetry.  The un-self-consciousness of it.  I don't have to think about other people.  It's just me and a pen and my journal.  That doesn't mean that audience never crosses my mind.  Of course, I want to publish.  However, I do not live in a poetic city.  I live in a poetic monastery.  A poetic Fortress of Solitude.  It's a smaller, more insulated place.  Poets are fearless.  No subject is too scary or dangerous or outrageous.

It is Friday.  I have a whole weekend of not worrying about work or teaching.  Nobody staring me down.  No cross-examinations.  Tomorrow morning, I will simply get up, go to McDonald's with my wife and son and sister, and do exactly what I want.  I will blog.  Read.  Maybe work on a new poem or draw a cartoon.

Saint Marty is living large and free and fearless for the next three days.

Terry Godbey is pretty damn fearless, too...


by:  Terry Godbey

          . . . imagine the eyes staring back
               ---Newsweek article on Andrea Yeats
                         July 2, 2001

Was it like gazing into an aquarium,
looking into their eyes,
tendrils of hair still swaying,
as the bubbles stopped,
their legs quit kicking.
Nothing could stop her
as she drowned her five children
one by one, last night's boats
and ducks bobbing nearby,
after sending her husband
off to work with a kiss.
Did she tell the boys she was doing it
for their own good, that worn phrase
from every mother's lexicon,
or was she silent,
though they surely weren't?
As she wrestled
the 7-year-old into the tub
next to his baby sister,
he must have screamed Mommy, no!
but the woman who read him stories
and kissed his skinned knees
was as irretrievable
as his little brothers, lined up on the bed
like dolls.  He must have seen
that her eyes, floating above him,
were already dead.

Somebody's always watching....

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