Oops! We get an unexpected bonus post today, edited after its initial appearance, I admit, because its first appearance was an accident. I was uploading a few more poems to save as drafts for potential future posts. Obviously, I clicked the wrong button and set this one to “publish.” So: think fast, John—what have you got to say about this poem?
I wrote it back in Ft. Madison, as the poem is marked below, developing a new relationship that bicentennial summer (first of the poems for that particular woman to appear here). I had seen a mind-altering production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt on PBS the winter before, while very ill with the last bout of flu I ever suffered—knock wood. I had also seen a Lanford Wilson play that same week, while even more ill; it was also televised on PBS, The Mound Builders—which until today I had thought was a David Mamet play (thanks probably to Kevin working on The Lone Canoe at the Goodman a few years later). I think both feverish experiences inform this poem but Peer Gynt, a play I always wanted to produce but never did, most clearly.
The poem owes a lot to that production’s very selfish, naïve Peer Gynt, too much like me (um, like the speaker in this poem). It is truly embarrassing to have posted this one…
I’m not sure where all the bell imagery originated, but bells are a good part of what it’s all about. A campanula is a kind of bell—actually a campanile (but also the bellflower, conveniently for this poem; I also like the asteroid connection).
As such a clear voice you are ringing
over gyntish winds I’m noisily breathing:
such an old and brilliant carillon singing
above the stinking sulfuric seething—
this noxious toxic mephitis
(Fumes foul eyes and nose as well).
Ah! sonic crystal bell-like chiming deep in hell
cthonic missal knell-like rhyming reap my shell:
rip this vain and meretricious māyā from my show:
child-so-quietly shatter: let me hair-soft silken know
in belle-rapturous silences who I went to go.
And when the brooch-pins’ points are more than stinging
(cornea parzival: all questions told: mirrorlens) weave
then the muted patterns of your tocsin love. Retrieve
from clangor and confusion my onan-deceptive vatic wringing.
Ft. Madison, 19 August 1976
The speaker in the poem feels trapped in a hellish situation of his own self-centeredness from which he feels the Other (our addressed audience, “you”) may rescue him. His sensory experiences and himself are deceptions imprisoning his soul in this pointless existence. Her beauty and bell-like voice will save him, if she wills it. He is Peer Gynt but also Parzival (related heroes actually, although I made Gynt a much more selfish and worthless fellow in my imagination then, Parzival being more a divine naïf for me). “Mirrorlens” results from more reading—Samuel R. Delaney (almost everything he had written to that date, actually, although probably in particular Dhalgren and Triton) and the complex meaning that combination had for me is hard to express, except to point out that a mirror reflects while a lens (like my glasses) permits focused light from elsewhere to enter in.
He wants her to tear away the delusions he suffers and let him realize and become who he needs to be/become. Oedipus appears in the final stanza, but please not the Oedipus complex (we’ll just leave other issues in the phrase I usually have edited wisely as “my own and”). The Greek king is a third figure in that caught-in-oneself trio who are also the speaker. As with Parzival, the woman will be the speaker’s salvation. After the disaster, in other words, she may weave a cocoon of rebirth together?
There. I’ve quickly turned this almost into a real (planned) post. We may need to add more later.
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.