As daylight tore away the empty streets
women fingered their jewels,
and almond scented wrists begged
for whitest sleeves to press against.
We whispered riddles to ourselves
that only oracles could understand.
It seemed you and I
were the speaking out
of faith to faith.
I knew then
your suns and designs
and the truest tales of our mothers
that challenged the twisted boy
mourning trumpets he could never play.
One of our lips parted
and the most reckless anthem of the wise,
a vast ruin unlawful yet kind swept
up among the blackened boom
of space's morning eternal.
My brother, that other one,
Will not pick me up.
But watches, without bemusement
Or compassion, without measurements
Or secret plans, and waits.
He carries a ring, brighter,
Larger than mine, and protects
By not protecting.
Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps the only poet to have snuck his way into the American public’s imagination. I say snuck because, let’s face it—America. Unlike England, with its fancy Dan history, and its Shakespeare, and its endless Queens in silly hats, America, brave sweet practical America, when offered poetry is likely to say, “I prefer dirt.”
Which makes perfect sense.
You can build something with dirt. Stock in dirt is up 7% since last quarter! Heck, with just a cup of water you can serve your little patriots mud pies for dessert. In all seriousness, it’s this practicality which made America possible, and actually work: not sending soldiers out to fight a guerrilla war in red uniforms, governmental checks and balances, flip-flops, etc.
But Poe is not dirt, he is what flies above the dirt.
Then how do you explain our poet reaching the dizzying heights of having a NFL team named after one of his poems? Well, the exemplary horror and detective fiction certainly didn’t hurt. That, and a reputation, warranted or not, of being a drug addled ne’er-do-well will get you far.
The Raven is the most well-known poem in America for a reason (it’s also the name of a horrible Hollywood movie that, unwittingly, christens Poe as a true American hero, imagining him as a gun slinging detective: Bang!). It and its creator transcend the sissy poetry/poet categories.
It’s dark, man. (It's also a masterpiece of rhythm and rhyme, but details!)
Here’s his oft-quoted line from “The Philosophy of Composition”, a mini-manual for rhymesters: “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”
Whether it is the most poetical topic in the world is, of course, questionable, but this assertion gives us a clue to the poet's nature. You see, Poe is a practical poet. Like an American dad with a shovel, he doesn't hide from the work at hand.
This life is finite, he says.
But there is beauty in living on earth, a beauty one can participate in. And woman, that which literally makes life and human beauty possible, as life, is sacred.
And...it’s all on it’s way out. To return...nevermore...
Bad things happen that one can’t prevent or give a reasonable reason for.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Poe can scare us. He knows the Shadow, and brings forth those things, those aspects of life that we might prefer to ignore or reject. Thankfully, he does this with the beautiful light of words, so we don't mind so much.
It’s the ephemeral quality of our lives, the same quality so central to poetry and music, that Poe is so wise to emphasize; this vulnerability to the arbitrary, to the chilling, killing winds of the world which, when perceived, makes our existence that much more ours, not in spite of the ensuing sorrow, but because of it. Acknowledging this may make one feel small, like a child. But a child also sees in a way that most no longer see.
So why waste time hiding from what you can’t escape? And for that matter, what the heck is actually going on around here anyways?
Take this kiss upon the brow!
Who knows? Maybe Poe did, maybe not. He knew many things; not that that helps you.
What we do know: there's not many more years left. So pay attention. Have fabulous evenings.
Kiss your Lenores, and appreciate your Annabel Lees. Whatever they may be.
I met one held a thing
as distant and as near
as what lovers knew
before the apple grew;
some seeming trinket
with mars light threaded through
and edges not its own.
I felt I had a home
from which bright paths unspooled
your and my and love's
to part each moment kissed
by pure intensity.
I met one held a thing
It’s today, and the swirls that sing in air
are everywhere, not that I care
or anything…and anyway,
I think I was doing it right,
flying your kites in late autumn,
defying winter jackets,
the branches that caught them
always giving back, like saints
or boys too shy to cackle.
Just forgive ungardenable men
who don’t like trailing hair, or joy;
your faculties might still employ
some taste of an unspent spring.
O my, what are those little darting things that sing?
Now silence on slabs,
smart lip and tongue to be canned
for locals piloting their summer boats.
I hope for you, and hope the most
to see our brothers’ choir
quiet, wrestling by the sea.
Though in all probability,
considering time’s desire to deceive
itself and you, and them and me,
that just won’t happen.
so I take from the lowest shelf
one lowly heart to contain
these half-felt, half-sister pleas…
To what purpose? For whom?
Remember—you too begged forth this life
from the dark-drenched womb.
Don’t cry for what seems to have come too soon.
I'll write a name, one from long ago
Before the sad world insisted to know
Who kissed whom, whom missed who, and on which show,
Which channel, site, or which screen's soft glow
The spell was broken. The gathering rhymes
Say they'll trill in us in future times,
Who lighten the names exhumed from shadow.
I have this fledgling hope tied to a string,
Tethered to the sleeping, half-reaching wing
Of the phoenix in bright midwinter snow.
It's enough for both of us to know
Ourselves as those lit by the snow
And fire of our post-dinner desires,
Signatures of lives, enmeshed wires
Throbbing, brilliant, names from long ago.
Nathan Woods, editor/overlord