Reading: Sunbathing by David Baker

David Baker is an American poet and professor of English born in 1954. His poetry books have titles like Never-Ending birds, Changeable Thunder, or The truth about small towns. I liked this poem at first sight.

The subtle rhyme and rhythm of the first verse, until “I suppose he is”, is a fine poetic craftwork. Both – chokes, Yabs – dab, shrubs – budging, yelping – help.

The dog is store-bought, we associate a certain type of people with that. We would befriend our own dogs in animal shelters. The chain (not a leash) is too short. What happens next in the poem is strange. The I lies in the sun (we assume it is a late afternoon). Why does the I say he is dying? Is the sight of the choking dog unbearable? Or is it the pup that says “I’m surely dying”, the line set italics to indicate that? The I and the dog are conflated in these lines. The author asks for help because he identifies with the suffering dog.

But in the second verse it is the cruel neighbor’s life that is ticking away like my own (my emphasis). The I also identifies himself with the cruel neighbor. This leads to inaction: I’ll stay right here in the cool shade. The crying of the dog is now perceived as the expression of the sadness of both the author and his neighbor. The explanation that follows is straightforward: both men are single and lack physical intimacy. Their chains are mental.

The last lines sound classical and remind me of Emily Dickinson. The yelping little pup reminds us of our own mortality and the poet is telling us implicitly, I believe, that we should not sit idly by when we see another being in pain, as death “comes quickly enough on their own, sweet time”.

Reading: Sunbathing by David Baker was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Beauty by Tony Hoagland

Saddened by the death of Tony Hoagland (1953 – 2018), the sharp and witty American poet, I read one of his poems today.

Beauty
When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.

After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,

but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.

I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,

spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,

while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.

Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.

Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,

walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—

It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.

My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,

something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.

A precise narrative poem. I like the rich picture he paints of the girl who ‘perfected the art of being a dumb blond’. The superficiality of her beauty and how it was over so suddenly.
And that description of spring! Isn’t it gorgeous, climbing up on the mulched bodies of our forebears to wave our own flags in the parade?

Being done with beauty seems to denote a higher truth here, an acceptance of the circle of life and love. And the disinterested trance of the ‘other’ women who continue being beautiful. Isn’t it the same trance as the sister experienced when she throws out beauty, to the secret place that keeps it safe?

Reading: Beauty by Tony Hoagland was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Shel Siverstein (1930-1999) was an American painter, poet and songwriter. I read a sweet little poem about the end of the line.

Where the sidewalk ends
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

He paints a precise picture of the place between the sidewalk and the street first, because these details will pay off later when we see the sidewalk as the obvious metaphor it is. It is a childlike, a playful place with the moon-bird and the crimson bright, and the peppermint wind.

When we realize the existence of the end of the sidewalk, we want to leave ‘this place’ with the black smoke and dark winding street, the dirty asphalt jungle of aimless (urban) life. And when we do so, we walk slowly and in a dignified manner. Just follow the arrows, and you will be saved.

Now the fact that the children draw the chalk arrows, and will have to redraw them because they will wash away, is an interesting turn here. The children “know”, but their knowing (about mortality) is a naive knowing. The “just know” and draw the arrows because they like to draw arrows, not because they are philosophers preoccupied with impending death.

Reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was originally published on Meandering home