Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Amicable Numbers

Mike Barlow's "Twenty Something Going On Immortal" (from his pamphlet Amicable Numbers, Templar Poetry, 2008) describes one moment in the climbing of a cliff, and concludes:

When I'm gone the same piece of rib
will jut against the sky, and a line of rope
mark out a sequence of inevitable moves.

The eighteen lines before this conclusion, though, make it clear that the "line of rope" was not at all inevitable from the perspective of the climber. Poems are like this, too: a series of choices and decisions that, in the end, must look like "a sequence of inevitable moves."— With the advantage, of course, that a misstep in a poem does not lead to a dangerous fall.

Barlow's "Out of My Body" describes what the speaker sees after "God knows who put what in my drink": From "high above the town," the squares, the river, the cathedral, but not the people: "I can't see how / we touch or hear what we say to one another." The description of being "out of my body" ends with this implicit rejection of the experience of being high in favor of a less self-centered view of the world, and hence makes a claim about what poetry is for: "how we touch" and "what we say to one another."

There's a lovely irony, then, in "Cauliflower Cheese," a descriptio of the making of a meal. It begins: "Don't speak. Don't interrupt. Whatever / you're bursting to say, save it." Here, "what we say to another" is nothing, and the speaker does not touch the addressee, who is sent to drink a glass of wine and walk barefoot on the lawn: "I'll call when it's ready. You can come in then / with all you have to say." But even, no conversation takes place; instead, the meal is eaten:

We'll help each other to seconds,
trying to leave a little for cold, tomorrow.
But we won't. We'll finish the lot.

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