Saturday, December 10, 2016

December 10: Slants of Light, Trompe-l’esprit, Maya Angelou, "These Yet to Be United States"

I like the slants of lights; I’m a collector.  That’s a good one, I say, that bit of bank there, the snakeskin and the aquarium, that patch of light from the creek on bark.  Sometimes I spread my fingers into a viewfinder; more often I peek through a tiny square or rectangle—a frame of shadow—formed by the tips of index fingers and thumbs held directly before my eye.  Speaking of the development of papier colle in late Cubism, Picasso said, “We tried to get rid of trompe-l’oeil to find a trompe-l’esprit.”  Trompe’l’esprit!  I don’t know why the world didn’t latch on to the phrase.  Our whole life is a stroll--or a forced march—through a gallery hung in trompe-l’esprit.

Dillard is a collector of all kinds of things.  Snakeskins.  Slants of light.  Books on insects.  Using Picasso’s terms, she is referring to a difference in life views, I think.  Trompe-l’oeil means to cheat the eye.  Trompe-l’esprit means to cheat the spirit.  I think that Dillard falls squarely in the trompe-l’esprit corner.  For Dillard, it’s all about finding ways to trick herself into moments of grace—whether through taking a walk along the banks of Tinker Creek or reading about eels walking across land at midnight.

That’s what poetry is all about, I think.  Trompe-l’esprit.  A trick of the spirit.  The best poets are somehow able to worm their ways into the soul with their words.  Those are the kind of poets I love.  Maya Angelou does that for me.  So does Sharon Olds and sometimes Billy Collins.  They take me on a stroll—or forced march—and make me feel things a little differently. 

Two weeks before Christmas.  Tomorrow, we are celebrating my daughter’s sixteenth birthday with our families.  My son’s Sunday School Christmas program takes place tomorrow morning, as well.  In the middle of all this hubbub, I have to write a Christmas poem, put together my annual Christmas letter, and do some Christmas shopping.  That’s my reality in the coming days.

I will have to say, though, that this whole nomination for Poet Laureate of the U. P. has sort of lightened things up for me.  Tricked my spirit into a state of bliss.  Whether I win or one of the other poets wins, I have people out there who appreciate my work.  Right now, maybe somebody is taking a little stroll—experiencing a little trompe-l’esprit—with one of my poems.  That makes me feel like I’m making a tiny contribution to the story of the universe.

I have one more Maya Angelou poem for you today, a small moment of trompe-l’esprit on this cold December weekend.

These Yet to Be United States

by:  Maya Angelou
Tremors of your network
cause kings to disappear.
Your open mouth in anger
makes nations bow in fear.

Your bombs can change the seasons,
obliterate the spring.
What more do you long for ?
Why are you suffering ?

You control the human lives
in Rome and Timbuktu.
Lonely nomads wandering
owe Telstar to you.

Seas shift at your bidding,
your mushrooms fill the sky.
Why are you unhappy ?
Why do your children cry ?

They kneel alone in terror
with dread in every glance.
Their nights ['rights' ? - Schrift nicht lesbar] are threatened daily
by a grim inheritance.

You dwell in whitened castles
with deep and poisoned moats
and cannot hear the curses
which fill your children's throats.


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