from PHANTOM HOUR
by James Meetze
I want to be ferried from this world
to whatever beyond.
I will not pay the ferryman’s tax.
I want a tether to this life’s treasures,
to remember each name
and address, each ingot of gold worn on the finger.
This is not abstract thought.
A thing is or it isn’t.
A thing works or it doesn’t and if that is the case,
then it is of no use to me.
Man lets loose his complaint,
dissent among the unwashed ranks.
No bird in the bush,
no books in the bag, but what worthless words
these are when vapor.
I complain that memory squandered is worse
than memory lost.
What can one hold in empty hands?
There comes a demonstrative need to articulate
every significant totem,
then articulate the surprise in discovering totem’s existence.
I want to drink from the River Lethe.
I am waiting to cross.
I am thirsty.
In oblivion, for example, a man connects with his own disconnectedness.
A man finds his orientation by way of questioning. Where is this? Did I
know? Even posterity is a casualty. Every question of complaint in the
night, can you see the bathroom light? Have you, through your winter,
run? Sweeping for mines at the convoy’s head to then depart from every
ship, every kin. In oblivion, for example, a man cries for a phantom
recognition. An event already happened and passed through the living
membrane to its mirror’s opposite. No gray rubber glove to guide you,
nor linoleum deck to stand upon. What happened to the walls? Why
green? Why here? When can we go home? When the treatment is done.
The name is a noose.
The pills champion stasis.
The name is not the everything, but
the mysterious origin, from which
we are hung.
From which we were taken to fight someone else’s war.
A conscript by default, a hired auxiliary
grenadier at Lexington, later in Lexington to settle.
The name is a minister and a church, the church still
takes its congregation’s offering.
We are free to worship, or not worship,
or simply remember that some of us have worshiped with zeal
and some of us not at all.
We are need to recover from grandfather’s drink,
from his father’s drink,
so this solution running into the vein
as a form of drink.
The blood and the mysterious origin of vowels
we must carry as a correction to simple phonetics.
This unnatural enunciation: ë not ee.
The name is the connection but not the connectedness,
is, in some small way, reverence.
This is a document intended to recover
and to go home.
The name is a document of recovering. It is the behavior of degradation
begetting a patchwork history to which I can connect, through my father’s
loss, to his father and farther down. So I start where I see the end fray.
I start where my father forgets. Not entirely sure where I am going, but
going nonetheless in this direction. I look. I poke around. I don’t even
have to go to a physical library. I find a name. The name. I go toward it.
It is no more important, in a worldly sense, than any other name. But it is
the name I carry, the name of which I am a function. I am calling to mind
the nature of afterthought: ambient ideas arriving like a sister, which is
to say, late. Am I too late to recover anything of value? To value, as in to
assign a measure of usefulness, is the name of any use, really? Isn’t the
leaf always representative of its tree? Doesn’t the sun cast light though
its branches in varying degrees each day? Part of recovery is simply
to notice things, to notice that they change, then how they change. I
guess we construct our own mythologies in this way. Making note of the
changes. Call it growth. Even as we grow toward death, toward loss, it
is new. The last leaf turns tawny on the branch and light makes it glow.
This is just a metaphor for how we wilt. How, in a frame of time
one thing or person becomes another, a parabola.
This face is my own face.
I look upon it in another person.
This face is my own face, a midshipman
by his first car, his brother and father, larger than the two
this is his big personality I suppose.
Is it a trait I too have? I suppose.
This face is my one face and here is another face I make.
Here is how I bite my lip like the picture I keep.
The robin’s-breast-red face.
The shape of the face in other people.
This face is my own face—it would be romantic to say limitless,
its limits are there in the age it shows.
It is not only my face, not my only face.
This face is worn and aged and forgetful
in another, saying “whose face is this?”
The document will tell us whose face we wear,
whose Germanic feature prevails in the face
in the transpositive smile
which I’ve traced.
This face, it sees past him and his,
sees to the past as it were.
James Meetze’s book Dayglo was selected by Terrance Hayes as winner of the 2010 Sawtooth Poetry Prize and published by Ahsahta Press. He is also the author of I Have Designed This For You (2007), and editor, with Simon Pettet, of Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems by James Schuyler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010). The recipient of the 2001 Poet Laureate Award from the University of California, he has taught poetry and creative writing at the University of California, San Diego, California State University, San Marcos, and in the MFA Program at National University. He lives in San Diego with his wife Lorelei, his son Brighton, and their cats.
Editor’s Note: Rich with density, today’s poem is an ambitious work that grapples with a litany of human questions and crises, while simultaneously striving to truckle to the demands of poetry. If you are patient with it, if you are willing to delve and re-delve, to take the poem in from up close as if breathing in a fragrance, and then step back and take it in again as if swallowing an ocean, you will see what I see: moments of brilliant language splendidly coupled with equally brilliant conundrums.
Want to read more by and about James Meetze?
Author page at Ahsahta Press
Dayglo can be purchased from Small Press Distribution