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These Arms of Mine

January 25, 2012

Like everyone else in the book blogging world, I’ve asked and answered the question about what author I’d like to have dinner with (Douglas Adams, for the record), but then I read “These Arms of Mine” by the poet of the long narrative line, David Kirby, and he made me see what makes thinking about that question so ultimately unsatisfying.

These Arms of Mine

Sometimes interviewers want to know what
dead people I’d like to have dinner with,
but my answer to that is nobody.
I mean, I wouldn’t mind following Dante around
and see who he talks to and where he shops and what

his writing schedule is, but can you imagine
trying to have a conversation with Dante?
Yeah, he wrote the greatest poem ever,
but his world view would be totally different from mine,
plus his temper was supposed to have been terrible.

Shakespeare wouldn’t say anything, probably;
he’d be storing up bits for his next play. Whitman
would probably talk your head off, and then
you’d be bored and not like his work as much as you
used to. No, I don’t want to have dinner with anybody.

But if you’re serious about time travel, I’d like
to go to Jamaica in 1967 and be sitting at a table
and drinking a Red Stripe in the after-hours club
where Bob Marley is playing, and Otis Redding,
who is touring the island, comes in “like a god,”

according to eyewitness accounts, and Bob Marley
looks up and begins to sing “These Arms of Mine.”
Wow. I tell you, I wouldn’t be myself.
I’d be Troilus or Tristan or Lancelot,
crying my eyes out for Cressida or Isolde

or Guinevere. She’d be on the battlements
of a castle in Troy or Wales or England,
all beautiful and sad-eyed, and I’d be clanking
up a storm as I drop my lance and brush
back my visor and pound the table with my mailed fist

while all the rastas look at me and say, “I and I a-go
cool out wit’ a spliff, mon!” But my arms
are burning, burning from wanting you
and wanting, wanting to hold you because
I need me somebody, somebody to treat me right,

oh, I need your woman’s loving arms to hold me tight.
And I…I…I need…I need your…I need
your tender lips, and if you would let these arms,
if you would let these arms of mine, oh, if you would
just let them hold you, oh, how grateful I would be.

The end of the poem makes me think of the way Doctor Faustus, in Marlowe’s play, gives up more abstract, intellectual pleasures in favor of the purely sensual pleasure of being with Helen of Troy.

It also makes me think of The Fault in Our Stars, when Hazel and Augustus meet the author of their favorite book and find out that they don’t necessarily love the creator of the book they love.

It’s hard to be disappointed by a warm night in the tropics and a song about love, a chance to become “Troilus or Tristan or Lancelot” rather than the chance to ask Chaucer or Mallory or any of the other authors who wrote about them what made them feel the story enough to do the hard work of writing about it.

If you’re “serious about time travel,” where would you go to experience the feeling you get when you read one of your favorite books?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2012 12:15 pm

    Actually, visiting Chaucer would be a good start, although I agree, I would rather look over his shoulder, like in the pensieve. Or maybe to visit Attila the Hun. Someplace very different that I can’t really quite imagine — that’s where I’d like to go.

    • January 27, 2012 8:08 am

      I like your point about the pensieve–to be part of it, but not in it. That would solve what Freshhell said, on FB, about the smells. And possibly the bloodlust, in the case of Attila.

  2. January 25, 2012 7:11 pm

    There are lots of writers I love but wouldn’t want to meet. Even the ones that sound like they’d be nice people in person would be stressful to meet, I think! I’d be tongue-tied and stupid, and I’d probably say something dumb and awkward. Best to admire them from a distance.

    • January 27, 2012 8:09 am

      Definitely. And part of why it’s best to admire them from a distance is because what we’re admiring isn’t them, exactly, it’s what they can do for us.

  3. January 25, 2012 8:01 pm

    This is wonderful. You find the best poems! And I remember asking this of my newsletter readers years ago (yes … I had a newsletter) and my one very logical friend saying “I’d love to invite Jesus and Beethoven but I’m sure there would be language issues.” When you think about it logically, such a dinner would be fraught with problems.

    • January 27, 2012 8:10 am

      I guess I’m assuming a Babelfish. In Beethoven’s ear…oh, wait. I see what you mean.

  4. January 25, 2012 9:22 pm

    Great poem! I was just thinking today about how much I don’t normally like meeting authors. I like keeping them as not real people, I think, so I don’t have to worry about them as people when I think about their books.

    • January 27, 2012 8:11 am

      I agree. Sometimes I really don’t want to know what I’m supporting when I pay good money for a book. The book should be enough–it should speak for itself.

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