23 January, 2014

Another Too-Personal Poem from the Vaults

Modern Love

Scarcely a shiver when I went down
on the girl from Ann Arbor, having spirited
by afternoon flight from Kansas City.
Three February-gray days in the state
shaped, I observed, like a mitten.
No meet cute, this. No Catfish, either.
“The Upper Peninsula,” she said, “isn’t
shaped like anything.” Her dreams were
equally tempered. Without Wi-Fi we stayed in,
posing for each other’s digital camera
in my ground-floor room at the Holiday Inn.

There, with the blanket kicked to a staticky
heap, I discovered, in addition to the post-shower
heat lamp in the bathroom ceiling and
the vicissitude that is a two-cup coffee maker, that
I was nurturing something very much akin to
love for the black-haired truck-stop waitress as I
stroked her scarified thigh, a young man with ideas
about the aesthetics of misery — how,
up close, damages dizen like starlight:
tattoos, secret subcutaneous metal glints,
and her fierce desire to leave
her glasses on and keep a razor-edged view
of our slow midwinter curling into one another.
A specially curated MP3 playlist for this.
She caressed my ear and called me beautiful, almost
letting go. I ventured, “And you’re
magnificent.” A potential litany of meanings to tweet about.
The excuse she needed to see me off from Detroit.

Back to Beaujolais by candlelight, books
scattered across my familiar empty bed,
and chat sessions in the dark. The power of discorporate
text, intoning things to make the blinkered heart grow fonder:
her tragic mother smoking to stage four on the floral-print sofa
downstairs, her younger brother missing after another late-night
“date.” The girl lit a Marlboro Light and typed,
i’m fine. can we go to voice tho?
Paltry fifty-six kay to my broadband. Our connection
stuttered, the catch in her faraway voice nearly mechanical.
“The fucking snow is brown.”
Does it matter how we lost each other?

* * * * *

“Poetry,” writes Charles Simic, “is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.” When I wrote this poem, “Modern Love,” I was struck by the conflicting desires to tell an emotional story and to write a good poem. (Good poetry insinuates, bad poetry insists. At least that’s my oversimplified take on the matter.) I’m not entirely sure if I succeeded on either count, let alone both, but here, nevertheless, is the result.

I shouldn’t have to explain that even the most personal poem isn’t strictly autobiographical. Twitter, for instance, didn’t exist when the affair described in the poem was taking place, nor did the film (or, still later, the television series) Catfish, yet the two make good shorthand for describing a relationship born and killed via Internet. Other details aren’t precisely true to life, either, but if you’re the kind of person who expects accuracy from a poem, you’ve got little business reading one.

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