Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?
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
SHINE SHINE SHINE 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:
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?