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Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?

October 4, 2011

For my sins, I’ve reached a point that I once claimed didn’t exist—the point at which a person doesn’t have time to read. And when that realization hit me last night–spurred by a Facebook comment I did read in between work, rabbit care, cat and human dinner, and symphony rehearsal—I abandoned the dishes, really quick did the most time-sensitive of the chores I have listed on sticky notes stuck on the side of my desk, and sat down with one of the books of poetry I checked out of the library the other day. Because there’s always time to read a poem or two. (I had twenty minutes.)

The volume I picked up is by Tracy K. Smith and entitled Life on Mars. (It was published in 2011 and so eligible for the Indie Lit Awards.) I thought reading through this volume might be an interesting follow-up to writing and thinking about our Stross blog post (now with 103 comments!).

I enjoyed “The Universe is a House Party,” even though it explores an old idea from science fiction as if it’s something new just because of the metaphor. But the metaphor really is kind of fun: “postcards/and panties, bottles with lipstick on the rim…with radio waves from a generation ago” even though the ending is no great revelation (we will welcome the aliens because we think the universe is ours).

The poem that struck me–and maybe this is just because I thought FreshHell, with her devotion to Bowie, would like it–was this one:

Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?

After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure

That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?

Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired

And flush-faced, running toward and electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.

He leaves no tracks. Slips past, quick as a cat. That’s Bowie
For you: The Pope of Pop, coy as Christ. Like a play
Within a play, he’s trademarked twice. The hours

Plink past like water from a window A/C. We sweat it out,
Teach ourselves to wait. Silently, lazily, collapse happens.
But not for Bowie. He cocks his head, grins that wicked grin.
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?

The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.

Bowie is among us. Right here
In New York City. In a baseball cap
And expensive jeans. Ducking into
A deli. Flashing all those teeth
At the doorman on his way back up.
Or he’s hailing a taxi on Lafayette
As the sky clouds over at dusk.
He’s in no rush. Doesn’t feel
The way you’d think he feels.
Doesn’t strut or gloat. Tells jokes.

I’ve lived here all these years
And never seen him. Like not knowing
A comet from a shooting star.
But I’ll bet he burns bright,
Dragging a tail of white-hot matter
The way some of us track tissue
Back from the toilet stall. He’s got
The whole world under his foot,
And we are small alongside,
Though there are occasions

When a man his size can meet
Your eyes for just a blip of time
And send a thought like SHINE
Straight to your mind. Bowie,
I want to believe you. Want to feel
Your will like the wind before rain.
The kind everything simply obeys,
Swept up in that hypnotic dance
As if something with the power to do so
Had looked its way and said:
Go ahead.

What do you think? Is this a poet who fell asleep watching Labyrinth and woke up shouting “Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes! His floating hair!

Or are the moments of joy enough to carry you through the poem—the assurance that “nothing is lost” and the image of sitting with your parents at the kitchen table? I did that recently, sat with my parents and brother as a group of four, at the kitchen table where we ate all our meals, growing up. My mother passed me a dish I didn’t particularly want, saying “here, have one” and I automatically took one and put it on my plate. Sometimes it’s all I ask of a poem, to be reminded of moments like that.

Are you reminded of a moment by this poem? Is it enough to make you enjoy it?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2011 9:17 am

    Well. Of course, I love anyone who loves Bowie enough to write poems about him. But. I really don’t have any idea what this is about. What it’s saying. There are some nice images but beyond that….again, I say, I’m too stupid for poetry. Or, maybe, this one. Even with my hero woven throughout it.

    • October 4, 2011 8:18 pm

      If you like some of the images, you got something out of it. As I said to you on FB, I’m not sure I understand this one either. I thought it would be fun to post a poem that might not be all that good and see if people like any part of it.

  2. October 4, 2011 7:06 pm

    Poor you with no time to read! No, it’s a state that exists — it just takes bibliophiles longer to get there. :/ Much as I miss driving, it must be said in favor of subways that I always have a good thirty minutes of reading time in any given work day.

    Not sure about the poem. I definitely like some of the image clusters though!

    • October 4, 2011 8:21 pm

      I do intend to remedy the “no time to read” situation. It will take a little while.
      As I said to FreshHell, I’m not sure about this poem either, but agree with you that I like some of the images. Is that enough?
      I’m not sure if the images come to anything; if it’s really a good poem or just a poem with some interesting mental pictures.
      I mean, what makes a good poem, for people like us who don’t have to read them?

  3. October 5, 2011 12:18 pm

    I like the line, “He’s got the whole world under his foot.”.

    • October 5, 2011 6:13 pm

      I didn’t really notice that line. Now I feel compelled to sing it (to the tune of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” of course)!

  4. October 5, 2011 2:20 pm

    I really enjoy the Bowie images and Labyrinth…who wouldn’t?

    • October 5, 2011 6:16 pm

      Okay, I think we’ve established that the poem has good images.
      I’m going to go ahead and stick my neck out to say that is where almost all the pleasure lies. There’s not a lot of coherence to the images, in the end. There’s no overarching structure or meaning revealed by this poem, but nice scenery along the way to the end of it.

  5. October 5, 2011 8:53 pm

    I’m trying to read some poetry and that’s been my approach – read a poem when I only have a few minutes. I hope you find time to read soon!

  6. October 5, 2011 9:05 pm

    Yeah, I’ll have to remember this slogan along about April, when it’s poetry month: there’s always time to read a poem.

    Now I’m thinking of the fat guy in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: “… just one mint. It’s wafer thin!”

  7. October 6, 2011 8:07 am

    I haven’t felt like I’ve had much time to read lately either, but I think that is my fault more than just being out of time.

    • October 6, 2011 9:41 am

      See, that’s what I used to think. But there are periods when it’s hard to make time. Brief ones, I hope. And there are ways to fit it in when it doesn’t even seem physically possible, like buying a book on the Kindle while traveling!

  8. October 6, 2011 9:55 pm

    apology, I did not make it thru the entire poem. HOWEVER, I did read your comment-provoking question abt being reminded of a moment, and YES… I went to a Bowie concert once. I was sitting by someone who obviously had a cat, a long-haired dander-prolific cat (I saw his apt, not sure he ever cleaned it?) and I spent the entire time sneezing and wheezing and sniffing and suffering a cat-allergy attack of which I cannot recall another. Bowie now reminds me of ‘cat’. My nose is now running just thinking abt that horrible experience.

    • October 7, 2011 8:43 am

      (laughter) so you’re voting no, in terms of liking the poem for recalling an experience!
      You could never come visit me at home. I’ll have to put on clothes right before I come to meet you somewhere.

  9. trapunto permalink
    October 17, 2011 4:03 pm

    Well, this poem is sort of a modeling of the David Bowie phenomenon itself, in that it is embarrassingly cheesy, flashy, and you don’t know what to make of it, yet it keeps pulling you back for another look because there really is something there…

    I really loved “Like a play — Within a play, he’s trademarked twice.”

    As for a Labyrinth nightmare–well yes, I think so! Especially those “flush-faced, running toward and electronic screen — That clocks the minutes” lines. I recently re-watched Labyrinth for the first time since my teens. I was surprised how well it held up and how much funnier some of the creepy puppeteer humor is to me now than it was then. Likewise with Bowie I’m backwards from the usual mode of fandom. He was barely a distasteful blip on my radar when I was younger (hated Major Tom) but ever since I saw him as Tessla in The Prestige (without recognizing him *at all* until the credits, just thinking, who is that marvelous actor?), and then picked up a scratchy old cassette tape of Hunky Dory at the Salvation Army for kicks, he’s been growing on me.

  10. October 18, 2011 2:22 pm

    *laughing* I think your reaction has captured something of my reaction to this poem, especially that it’s
    “embarrassingly cheesy, flashy, and you don’t know what to make of it, yet it keeps pulling you back for another look.” That’s pretty much how I felt.

  11. June 14, 2017 7:32 am

    I must confess to being a novice as far as writing and reading poetry goes. My own lack of appreciation for this kind of poem may have more to do with my naiveté than the quality of the poem itself. After learning earlier today that Ms. Smith was made the poet laureate of the US, I looked up her work and googled analyses of some of her poems that are available online. In all honesty, I walk away with jumbled images, having to scratch my head over and over to even get a sense of what the bottom line message or essence is. And I still remain at a loss. Now there’s a scary thought about my intellectual shortcomings! But I still prefer a read I can comprehend without having to labor excessively through it just to get a grip. Reading should be fun, lol.

    • June 19, 2017 4:10 pm

      Yes, reading should be fun. Sometimes it’s important to try to understand complicated feelings that are conveyed in necessarily complicated ways by poetry, though. And I love the puzzle aspect of reading John Donne or Wallace Stevens.

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