Friday, February 19, 2010

Inspired by John Ashbery and Jeanette Winterson with a dash of Adrienne Rich


This is where your story starts in the warp and weft of a used blanket. You covered yourself against a world that spun and circled beyond your grasp. You have been afraid of loneliness, so you reached out and touched the stars, briefly, pulling back because, yes, perhaps solitude would be best. You might not be hurt in isolation. You remembered this when you were burned by their touch, and in the middle of your terror, you longed for that intensity again. You are afraid of transmutation by fire, because you suspect you are kindling, and once lit you will disappear in memory of smoke and vapor, yet you cannot forget that consumption, or the intoxication you felt when just the tip of your finger glanced the edge of her core fragment as she passed through your orbit. When you first met her, you thought she would answer all your questions, and you would find happiness at the end of her. You thought, if she ate enough of you, she might absorb your uncertainty that from inside her you might be able to look out and see through a clearer lens. She liked telescopes, and imagining the galaxy smaller. When she was talking it was always important, even when, hours later, you could not remember the content of the conversation, only its quality and the relief that welled up inside you, as if the heart of the matter had been buried, and finally uncovered; it could not contain its joy and spilled across the day, so each time you saw her you tried to continue that singular conversation. You wanted to re-capture each speculation in quantity, so you might horde it, save it for a time when you might not listen, or she might not speak. You were stuck in that journey, attached to being; you could not sever the connection to the existence of you, so predictable, so foreseen, so day to day to day to day. Your journey had become stagnant, stuck in a single room. You were tapping walls looking for a flaw, a weakness; you might exploit, and escape the inevitability of you when you stumbled over her lying beside you. She fantasized herself as historic, and assumed to be unique and original. She laughed at loneliness and aching, and called them mythologies and excuses, said you cannot be alone when at least the moon is always with you, and thinking alone can be a gift of no interruption and no hope for a help that will not come. She wanted to be selfish with her problem, have it belonging only to her, so when she saw the many intruding with offered hands, she retreated to a single room with a single window to bring the world inside, where she placed it against the opposite wall, and tried to decipher the sides turned away from her view hugging their own corners of the room. She saw herself duplicated, a thousand doppelgangers holding clones of her fears and her problem. She saw herself smaller. She saw herself in triplicate and wondered, “we start with one thought that divides into many, then we build frames, and add doors, and we close them,” so she dreamt herself opening. She saw roads and rivers beyond, she saw her problem on the shoulders of millions and felt lighter. She went beyond the idea of a doorframe, saw the walls as the problem, and described the act of demolition. She pictured fields with an outstretched ground that invited sprinting until breathless, and in this imagination she saw the glimmer of an uncertain end, and thought, for the first time, she could not reach her desire by flying, and at last, the end was not important, that her feet were the thing; that the step, the arch, the bend, the contraction, and the pull were the relevant substance. She declared this, and uncovered us, folded our prologue into quarters, placed that part of us in a neat corner, and then she reached for me with one hand, held the sun in the other, and together we rushed to the open, searched for the question, realized the answer was not what mattered.

I'm taking a Poetry Workshop at UHM with Professor Susan Schultz this semester, and John Ashbery's "Three Poems" has been the most recent subject of our poetic investigations.  As a writing exercise, Susan has asked the class to choose a poem of the semester, and then to re-interpret this poem every week through a different poetic style, form, or voice.
I chose a passage from Jeanette Winterson's "Written on the Body" as my poem of the semester, and the prose poem above is my attempt at translating Winterson through Ashbery, and I couldn't help but add a dash of Rich.