Julie Marie Wade

Latchkey

 

Anything—by these terms—may be a poem.

 

How does that feel? 

 

Cold...as a stethoscope...as a dense fog...

 

Does a poem know its own name?

 

Will it come when called?

 

Will it come if you call it something different?

 

 

 

Today a truck parked in a tunnel proclaimed to me:

 

            "Trucks are like women—if it's not yours, don't touch it."

 

 

 

I'm over-punctuating: there was no comma, no long dash—surely no "quotation mark."


The truck, stagnant & driverless, interrupted my train of thought,

 

firing—or so it seemed—a live assault.

 

 

 

"When the times get tough, the tough get going"—

 

            And the weak intellectualize

 

 

That's what I thought anyway—                 weak & voiceless in a tunnel

 

                        hollow as my pagan heart...

 

 

(Do you like that flourish?  That flare of melodrama? 

When I send a signal, I'm seldom subtle. 

I call six times just to be sure you heard.)

 

 

 

First, I laughed because it lets the sting out.  Laughter deflates the ripe balloon.

 

Then, I squirreled around the subject & made a strike-through on the words inside my mind.

 

           

            Improper syntax

 

            Revise!

 

            Suggest alternatives:

 

(singular) "A truck is like a woman: if it's not yours, don't touch it."

 

           

            Aphoristic.  Expanded simile.  A recognizable rhetorical form a la Eleanor Roosevelt,

 

            sometimes credited to Nancy Reagan—and who to believe?

 

           

                                    "A woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is

until she gets into hot water."

 

 

And that's another thing: the problem of "it" & of pronouns all together

 

            A tea bag is now a "she"               (personification?) (anthropomorphism?) (pathetic fallacy?)

 

            The woman is now an "it"

 

 

Comparing animate to inanimate is risky business.

 

 

 

Risky Business.  1983 Tom Cruise flick where he dances in his underwear.  Beware: may not be appropriate for all audiences.

 

 

(plural) "Trucks are like women: if they're not yours, don't touch them."

 

            That solves the problem of parallel structure, of noun-verb agreement, of contradictory pronouns.

 

 

                        But every statement poses problems the words can't discern, those heel-nippers:

 

                                                Ideology             &         Context

 

 

 

I think a poem is a thought.

 

 

(Is the converse true?  Is a thought a poem?)

 

 

The statement a dart, the mind a board.

 

 

 

Questions raised by this assertion—this bumper sticker, this city slicker's fortune cookie.

 

            Two-for-one special at the cinema:

 

City Slickers (plural, non-possessive).  1991.  Billy Crystal in mid-life crisis. [followed by]

 

Fortune Cookie. 1999. "Three couples, one night—No two fortunes are ever the same."   [not to be confused with]

The Wrong Fortune Cookie.  2002.  "Because some cookies just don't have the right answers."

And there's another one, from 1966, with Goldie Hawn.

 

 

There is no evidence to suggest that women & trucks have anything in common.  Some women drive trucks.  Some men drive women crazy.  I was almost driven crazy by a man—not that I blame him entirely, since "crazy" is a lazy word & quite subjective, a bead on a sliding scale.  Let's just say I couldn't stand the sound of him crushing cans of Barq's root beer between his bare hands & tossing them across the floor, like a new sport: a combination baseball/bowling.

 

 

I think a poem is a thought.

 

                                               

Linda Breuer used to say, before she married Paul Applewhite & became a different person:

 

            "If you love him, you won't mind the little things he does.  If he throws his socks on the floor, or           

            his underwear, you'll just pick them up & toss them in the wash.  After a while, you won't

 

even notice

                                                                                    anymore."

 

 

 

I think a poem is a thought & a disruption of thought.

 

 

 

Jeanette Winterson on Virginia Woolf: "She was an experimenter who managed to combine the pleasure of

                                                       narrative with those forceful interruptions the mind needs to

       wake itself."

 

 

Wake     or rouse.

 

I had not been sleeping, not like the Beauty whose pointer was poised, then pierced on a spinning wheel; drowsing under the weight of that spell. 

 

--As under glass.  An artifact of difference for the masculine museum.

 

--As pheasant even.  The elegant.  The hunted.  The contained.

 

 

I had not been asked to turn flax into gold.   

 

Yet how that permission (birthright?) (compulsion?) binds like a contract I was coerced to sign!

 

Passive              I do

 

Kempt               I do

 

Inured               I most certainly do

(And what is this word by a 'j' away from injured)

 

"You're such a spitfire!" my father exclaimed, but neither he nor I were sure what this should mean

 

Spitfire, as in The Spitfire Grill: "To a town with no future comes a girl with a past."  1996.  3 nominations, 1 win.

 

                                                As in, literally— "capable of spitting fire."

                                               

 

We have a dictionary in our house now.  I can "look things up."  Like raising a periscope over a very high (Secret Garden high) wall:

 

spit•fire   a quick-tempered or highly excitable person [then the subordinate clause],

              especially a girl or woman

 

 

If I were Gretel (or Hansel maybe), what kind of seeds would I throw down?

(Not crumbs, you see, which decompose—but seeds: resolutions: the kinds of things that grow)

 

Flax, Sesame, Poppy

 

And from flax shall come doubloons a' plenty

 

And from sesame shall come streets paved with gold

 

And from poppy—sweet poppy—a field of flowers & a deep dream like an after-thought

 

 

 

I think a poem is pre-meditated.  Like a crime.  Like the hardest kind of crime to solve.

 

 

 

If I were Hansel (or Gretel maybe), what kind of stalk, what kind of story?

 

Experiment, Pleasure, Interruption

 

--the spitfire

 

--the extortionist

 

--the "break in the flow"

 

 

I think a poem is a thought.  And a counter-thought.  A promise & its palinode.

 

 

 

Where the pretty words kiss & crumble—flummox & fawn

 

Where   

"visceral whiplash,"

 

"cerebral serenade,"

                                               

the pressure to combine these pleasures...

Anything may be a poem.

 

Is there a "theme"?  Is there a "thesis"?  Is there a "point"?

 

 

You say: "Maybe you're looking at this the wrong way."

 

(A shrug.)  (An eyebrow raise.)

 

"Maybe that truck wasn't talking to you.  Maybe you intercepted someone else's message."

 

 

If the words are little inkblots, like I like to believe,

Then we learn to have a sixth sense about them:

 

                                                The Sixth Sense.  1999 drama about a boy who communicates with

                                                people who don't know they're dead.  "Not every gift is a blessing."

 

 

Like if I say story, you don't have to say moral, even if it's the first word that comes to mind.

 

Or maybe you do, & that's good too because then we can talk about it: this assumption that morals underlie things—undergird them:  that old graffiti beneath the green bridge. 

 

 

Or if you say poem, & I say malice, to throw you off, but also because I think a poem has a dark side.

 

                                                Malice.  1993.  Baldwin.  Pullman.  Kidman.  "You ask me if I have a

                                                God complex.  Let me tell you something: I am God."

                                               

 

Poet.

 

Now there's the one with the God Complex.

 

 

  • No, I don't think poets are "more spiritual than other people."

 

  • No, I don't think it's a "gift" or a "blessing."

 

 

  • Yes, I think it's "work."

 

  • Yes, I think it's a "worthwhile undertaking."

 

 

How come, if I tell a joke, no one calls me a comedian?

But I write a poem, and just like that, I'm a poet.

 

(A shrug.)  (An eyebrow raise.)

 

 

Earl Lovelace used to ask, rum-soused & wide-eyed:

"Where is the story?"

 

 

Only he stretched story out to three syllables & let it linger like taste on tongue...

 

Where    is          the        st          oo         ry?

 

As if the story were hiding somewhere, that tiresome imp. 

That cow that jumped over the moon.

 

 

I have been accused of being cold.

 

--as a stethoscope

 

--as a dense fog

 

My gears & wires, like a yellowed slip, have been accused of showing.

 

 

What ever happened to Show 'n' Tell?  Nowadays everyone wants a Confession.

 

con•fes•sion   Avowal of faith (or) admission of guilt

 

A promise & its palinode.

 

 

Sharon Olds on brainpower: "To me, the mind seems to be spread out in the whole body."

 

 

I can show you what I see, I can tell you what I think, but do I owe you my faith or my guilt?

 

 

Terry Crabtree in Wonder Boys:  "What he means is...it's difficult to distill the essence of a book because it

                                                 lives in the mind."

 

 

And where is the mind again?

 

All over the body.

 

 

 

My Dear Mr. Descartes, we've come full-circle                     & still no sign of the Soul

 

 

Here about the time, counter & clockwise & running out of & once upon, I was a citizen of a strange land of phrases.  Province of "white elephants" & "elbow grease."  No table quite complete without a "cheese ball."  And my father called his suitcase a "grip" & gripped it tighter, not sure who would be first to fall.  And my mother, who was once almost eaten by a mountain lion, survived to play dice games like "Fill or Bust" & piano instead of accordion.

 

And so in this way, I learned there are rooms inside words, spaces for a mind to crouch inside them.

 

                                                Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  2000 Ang Lee film

                                                about a stolen sword & a notorious fugitive.

 

                                               

("About": some endless handkerchief a magician pulls from his pocket)

 

 

Who hasn't written the poem she's supposed to write?

The teachers will praise you for it.  The class will agree.

There will be a lot of buzz about "accessibility."

 

How does that feel?

 

 

I never saw Dead Poets Society—or once, with a fever, in a college dorm.  I kissed my boyfriend afterward.  He was churchy & prim & pleased with himself.  The next day he started "coming down with something."

 

A whole architecture rests on a single word:

 

coming down      (or)       letting   (or)       going

 

He did the second but never the third...

 

 

Or when my grandmother, rattled or pleased, exhales an "Oh my word!"

 

--As if she couldn't pick one

 

--As if I could ever blame her

 

 

 

I think a poem is a thought.  I think a word is a room.

 

 

Words in a poem are optional.

(See Moonlight & Valentino.  1995. Elizabeth Perkins & Whoopi Goldberg.)

 

 

Have you ever spun doughnuts in a parking lot?

Popped wheelies?

Gone for a bumper ski?

 

The sheer futility...of actions unprovoked...of outcomes unexpected

 

But you like it: Sisyphus meets Hercules on the rope tow to the future & the present (for once) is

neither a gift nor a blessing

 

 

                                                The Gift: 2000 Sam Raimi thriller starring Cate Blanchett:

"The only witness to the crime was not even there."

 

 

 

Questions raised by this assertion—how much of the poem is futile?  how much inevitable?

 

ad hoc   For the special purpose or end at hand & for no other; also, by extension, improvised or impromptu; as in "case-by-case basis"

 

post hoc  The logical fallacy of believing that temporal succession implies a causal relation; in or of the form of argument in which one event is asserted to be the cause of a later event simply by virtue of having happened earlier; as in "post hoc reasoning"

 

And what to believe?

 

 

Kierkegaard on progress: "One must live life forwards, though understand it backwards."

 

 

This the problem of the post-hoc, the poem's problem, Houdini's chained box submerged in water, yet the contents disappear...or were they ever really there to begin with?

 

 

Does reflection generate insight or delusion?

 

Is hindsight 20/20 or profoundly blind?

 

 

In my life as an amanuensis, I have typed these words, fingers haltingly across the keys, that fragile feeling rising up in my mouth & pressing deep in the soft palate tissue: The type of "understanding" he cites is that found in everyday life; we begin with what happened (consequences) & find appropriate causes (antecedents), often by creating a "good story"—i.e., one compatible with our own & our culture's understanding of life. 

 

 

In love with a woman, the oxytosin overdrive:

 

My mother first, sobbing into the phone: "So that's why you don't wear make-up." 

 

And then my father: "She was always different.  Not that she played with G.I. Joes, but she didn't seem to like those Barbies either."

 

 

I think a poem is the best story we have.

 

(Remember when "telling stories" was the same as "telling lies"?)

 

 

Rapunzel releases her long braid. 

Material she has made useful. 

A transformation: this yellow ladder of hair.

 

 

Wait for it—the crux, the fulcrum. 

 

Somewhere the poem starts to reveal intention.  A rope dangles from a tower window.

 

(Will you climb it?

Will it hold you?

Will something have to give way?)

 

 

 

 

 

If I say story, you don't have to say lie, even if it's the first word that comes to mind.

 

Maybe you say myth—a lie cloaked in cache—or superstition, post hoc caveat

 

                                                                                                (And what other kind?)

 

Or if you say poem, & I say comeuppance or closed system or schadenfreude

my fondness for compound words; a house with an attic inside.

 

 

I think the poem is an alter-ego. 

 

Not an after-school special or a tinder box.

 

 

(Where the thesis, also the anti-thesis...)

 

 

Not only to educate—

Not just to contain—

 

 

Think about the "a" that makes person a persona

 

Think about the shape of those words

 

 

Like if I tried to draw a line between James Stewart & George Bailey—

right down the middle of their bodies

 

(The same body, but not the same mind...)

 

 

I think a poem is a thought with a transom.  I think a word is a room with a skylight.

 

Crawlspaces.

 

Curtains.

 

 

Or my aunt:

 

how she could never look at Bing Crosby the same way again: now knowing

 

he had beat his kids & been a Catholic.

 

 

 

The man who was my grandma's window-washer for close to twenty years, confiding:

 

            "I washed windows for Donna Reed.  You never met a nicer lady.  Real sincere. 

            She didn't play no character on television.  She was just bein' herself."

 

 

Does it stay separate?      I wonder.

 

 

Like the poet & speaker,               the actor & part?

 

 

One a dart, the other a board.

 

 

Or the woman who is also a wife—her name she has changed to duplicate her husband's.

 

Coordinate.

 

Copy.

 

What of the maiden name & the married name?       

 

Mary Hatch, then two words & she turns to Mary Bailey

 

 

                                                It's a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra's 1946 classic about a

                                                disheartened businessman who is given a chance to see "what the world

                                                would be like without" him.  A horror film.  A promise—& its palinode.

 

 

From which: a new word:

 

Cap•ra•esque   Of or evocative of the movies of Frank Capra, often promoting the positive social effects of

           individual acts of courage

 

 

And the best piece of advice I ever took from a film: "Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?"

 

 

Like a trap door & falling through it, or Alice down the rabbit hole, or Dorothy
caught out wandering in a storm.

 

 

Something there is that doesn't love a wall—but wants it all the same.

 

 

  • No, I'm not trying to "exclude" you

 

  • No, I wouldn't say I tend to "dissociate"

 

 

  • Yes, I will "leave a light on" for you

 

  • Yes, I will place a key "under the mat"

 

 

I think a poem is a thought. 

A three-story stand-alone with an alley out back. 

A long braid.  A wrench & a rope. 

 

 

No pasting Zuzu's petals back.

                                                            (Though we like them:     these beautiful lies)

 

 

Not happily always,

 

                                                                        But    alert  &   ever mindful                    after

 

 

I think a poem is a thought & a compendium of thoughts. 

A probe & a white-water raft.

 

Also (clearly):   a metaphor.

 

Also (necessarily):   an inventory.

 

 

Remove stars from eyes   *

 

Repeat maxim: Good fences make good neighbors    *

 

Lock back door    *

 

Lock front door     *

 

Open shutters on upstairs windows   *

 

Shovel walks    *

 

Warm engine    *

 

Leave a light on    *

 

Place key (duplication prohibited) under the dark-woven mat *