I know I wrote this poem over ten years ago and I have carried it around with me for some time. I have never submitted it to a literary journal.
There is something about literary journals, a fiendish dichotomy between poems seemingly puerile and those carved out of academic snobbery. I know this is not a poem for a teenage journal, nor is it poised to be political and topical. Nor does this poem strive to throw in pretentious, multi-syllabic words or attempt to revel in the pseudo-scientific (no mentioning of string theory or quarks here).
Years ago, I met a writing professor devoted to a poetry book on “plastic”. It sounded interesting, clever and for the fact that he could explain himself and his work, talk about his poems as if from the outside, I gave him some credit.
I can’t be objective about myself and I have never been able to analyse my own poems nor explain what I’m doing. If I could explain myself, then I guess I would give up writing poetry. I would be at the end of myself. For me, I don’t want to walk around with an academic elevator pitch of what my poetry represents. I like stories, I know this. I like moods. I like the tactile, the sensuous. And maybe there’s more and maybe there isn’t it. Does a parent want to analyse his or her own child and turn to another parent and provide a complete list of said child’s attributes and qualities? My god, this world of specialization bothers me and I don’t want to label nor negate myself.
I know I like beauty. Actually, I love beauty. Maybe that’s why the twentieth century bothers me a little. You had writers like James Joyce and painters like Pablo Picasso and they took beauty and shoved her head into a brackish puddle. And if you want to be respected as an artist, you need to follow suit, and have a disdain for things traditional lauded by previous generations: the soul, the mystery of the cosmos, existence, love.
Currently, the academic world teaches its writing students to write purely from personal experience and that you cannot talk about the grander ‘we’. The writer should only be the ‘I’ of themselves.
I shake my head.
John le Carré wrote once about a desk being a dangerous place from which to view the world. I would say a university writing course is not so much a dangerous place but a narrow-minded one. Even Ian McEwan voiced his concerns about twenty-year-olds without life experience trying to be writers by sitting in a classroom. It would be the same as soldiers learning about war purely through Clauswitz and Thucydides.
But what can I say without starting some argument. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with a minor tirade.
Yet to get back to my poem, what can I say? It came from somewhere. I imagined a humble scene between a man and a woman. I thought of how natural and frightening it is to long for someone, what it means and why, in rejection, we not only feel hurt but it seems more than that. We are on this tender threshold of possibility and to have the door slammed upon us, it is to feel a kind of collapse, to be disappointed by our own dreams. Almost like a depression. It feels like we cannot be repaired, that our path into a wondered future is silenced, the previous roar of our imagination has died with the thunder in our heartbeat.
Not that we can have another person complete us; it is we are always looking for the future in everything we do. The present is never solid, the ground ever-shifting and the idea of loneliness a kind of anomaly. To be with another person is so natural and when that person we want exists somewhere between the familiar and the intimate, it is like trying to cross a bridge falling apart below us. To go forward is our only inclination but the fear of rejection is the fear of being unable to return to the safer place before longing.
Because longing is exciting. And yes… before that?
And to throw ourselves romantically into a future with the person who seems to offer a viable, flesh and blood hint as to our place in the world, we straddle along in our tightrope walk (yes, related to the metaphor of the crumbling bridge).
I don’t believe the visions of our imagination are entirely fictional, that in truth, when we long for something, a part of ourselves is waiting for ourselves on the other side.
Rejection then is in a sense a rejection of a future ‘us’.
We long to meet who we are with the other that makes us feel so bewildered, so lost and beautifully alive.
Maybe I have explained my poem or maybe this preface is a complement. I don’t know, let the ideal readers decide.
When I asked Her
I was leaving work when I asked her
If she wanted me
to be seen with her in the evening,
that is, would she like to go
I don’t know.
* * *
I considered all possible answers,
A throwing back into all I could ever
I have asked her in my tired whispers,
I have dreamed
Her perfumed wrists,
black silk dress,
A casual calling of clothes,
to be caressed in restaurant
ardent and flown,
Mornings of rain, walking home, her and I.
I wanted to ask her,
Places and faces I face while crossing the
Street when I hear
Myself wondering, wondering deeply
About her, a single stop light,
A silhouette, under a last glance
Turning into a smile, the willing chance
to let myself ask her; just once.
Moments measured in the
Afternoon, I ask her in my mind,
Boardrooms and my eyes
Searching for the helpless hands
Of the clock…
Office room, slowly working out my
World of ideas… corridors
Leading past her door,
Pages upon her desk retreating
Into the files.
Her words without response,
We stand, yet to happen, a
Precedence of never approaching
Now changed in her midst,
I have a longing… this longing
That wants to open a door,
Turn on a light
And brave in the suddenness a kiss,
A cheek in the downpour, against the
Streets of walking home late,
The quiet turning off of lights
On a kitchen floor, the sunlight
And our embrace….
* * *
When I asked her, it was less
More a reply, a single guess
That this is how things
Are supposed to turn out, meanings in the words
Of all my honest endeavours,
A severed silence waiting for all of this, for I all ever
Imagined, for what I dreamed I heard.
Denials and trials of the mundane, the victory,
Something like staying up at night,
Something like late hours,
Watching a movie in her company,
A holding closer, a coming closer to her
In my life.
As I asked her I heard evening
Bubbles of rain
In the street,
In brooks that call me into memories
Of parks near streams and storm drains,
A struggling I waited for her answer
In the lobby, the surface of morning
Somewhere to rise
Over this spot I stand,
When and how far under will it be
And how will it all become
If I walk to return
And remember this all in passing, sadly?
Her still standing there in all my crowds
Surrounded by inner figures that hold me.
Coffee cups, her and I,
Listening and laughing
That’s why I ask her
To come out and be with me.
I see her on a balcony in the rainfall,
I see her at the cinema, waiting, the theatre
At the trendy cafes and such, a hesitating
In a restaurant soon we will be seated,
A midday lunch,
A drink, a fountain in the glass.
She’s waiting and I cannot wait any longer.
* * *
I asked her now and the moment becomes empty
The world becomes still towards her reply…