22 May 2009

Erin Belieu

[from Erin Belieu's One Above & One Below, Copper Canyon, 2000]

I Can't Write a Poem about Class Rage

Too prosaic, didactic,
purely political, the cause lacking
a certain loftiness, unlike homelessness
or domestic abuse, those subjects
newly upholstered with the necessary,
American-style noblesse oblige.

Maybe if I were writing in
an Eastern European language with
a translator who caught all the verve
of my colloquial phrasing, writing
from a tradition that believes in options
other than the exhausted, ethical
tepidity of Art for Art's Sake,

the verbal icon spinning away
unsullied in some universal nook,
clean as Ol' Possum's toilet bowl,
that preatomic mode that's so outre
but keeps on spreading anyway,
then maybe I could get away with it.

But I can't write a poem about class rage.
Who likes to read about the real-
life troubles of the undistinguished poor,
a bunch of luckless, disinherited,
trailer-trash folk and their relentlessly
shitty lives? Even Keats, purged of his Cockney
accent, couldn't salvage a poem out of
my best friend's nephew, a kid too broke
to buy even half a billable hour, buried

away in the country lockup of some
corner of Oklahoma, falsely accused
of raping an infant since the baby's
crank-addled mother had a score to settle
with the nephew's ex-wife. That won't
melt one stick of butter with
the versifying trust-fund crowd.

So I can't write a poem about class rage
without my own (no doubt) illicit motives
being called into question, and who am I
to take such a hectoring tone, to rant,
about someone else's baby or nephew,
and where are my credentials? What makes me
think I could throw a legislator's stone?

Choose Your Garden

When we decided on the Japanese,
forgoing the Victorian, its Hester
Prynne-ish air of hardly mastered urges,

I thought it would be peaceful.
I thought it would relax my nerves,

which these days curl like cheap gift wrap:
my hands spelling their obsessions, a nervous
tic, to wring the unspeakable from
a silent alphabet.

I thought it would be like heaven: stern,
very clean, virtuous and a little dull --

but we had to cross the bridge to enter
and in the crossing came upon a slaughter
of camellias, a velvet mass-decapitation
floating on the artificial lake,

where, beneath its placid surface, a school
of bloated goldfish frenzied, O-ing
their weightless urgency
with mouths too exact to bear:
           O My Beloved,

they said to the snowy
petals and to the pink petals soft as
wet fingers,
           O Benevolent Master,

they said, looking straight up at us
where we stood near the entrance, near
the teahouse half-hidden in a copse of ginkgo,

where even now, discreetly and behind
its paper windows, a woman sinks down
on all fours, having loosened the knot
at the waist of her robe.

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  1. I don't know what to say, but I keep coming back to read. Thankyou.

  2. Thanks for coming back. Readers are all poetry needs.