By Matt Steel
24 June 2021
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus spent ten years fighting in the Trojan War, followed by a homeward journey of another ten years. In all, he was away from home about 7,300 days.
Sometimes the best poems
are not poems at all.
They don’t want your chatty lyricism
or rubbery metaphors. They simply
don’t want to be written.
Like stampeding herds of wildebeest,
they can’t be bothered to answer your questions about Rilke
or the decline of attention spans
in the age of social media.
They will not stand still for the pause,
form, ground, that even the most abstract poem demands
of a poet wishing to pluck an overlooked apple,
slice into it, offer a sliver
to someone looking at the word apple
hanging at the end of a line, and say, look,
look at this, taste: it is good, very good.
Sometimes the best poems are content
in their unformed state. They don’t want
your Keats, Yeats or Beats, thank you very much.
They are unmoved by your private sighs and hours
spent tilting at windowsills.
Sometimes the moment is the poem entire
and imperfectible. To interfere with it,
to watch yourself watching it,
is to erase it and change yourself
into something less than the witness
you were meant to be.
Sometimes there is no one
who could even hear or bear the silence
singing around and within you.
Sometimes footfalls or spaces between them
cannot be limned or measured. Sometimes
to be caught alone by a rising moon
is the sweetest freedom, and bystanders
would bring it all crashing down.
Sometimes you still resolve, against all voices,
to squeeze and pat the story into a shape
that will hold water, knowing
the bowl may be scrapped or folded
into an urn or tea setting.
You return to the wheel because the idea
carries too much beauty, and the heat of it
will kill you unless you vent the flames
licking your ribcage
and train them to temper.
Sometimes you get enraged, ashamed or desolate
and the feeling saturates you,
refuses to unzip itself from your dna
and find someone else to torment, say,
a bee trapped beneath a plastic cup
or lashed Odysseus, stock-still and hearkening
as Sirens drift by –
so you wrestle it into thought,
say it out loud again and again
as a charm against the frailty of memory,
until you get home, burst through the back door,
fling your sweat-soaked backpack into the laundry room,
lurch into the office and write the truth you know
but have yet to learn.