The Bachelor (Sandor Csoori)

March 4, 2009

My friends murmur in my ears
that I’m not compatible with you, poetry.
They say I should walk out on you.
You’re a beauty queen–
both a virgin and a whore.
Your lashes flutter in the wind, northbound,
like wild geese.
I’m the slave driver–
I plod after you even this summer,
drenched with mud.
It’s true: there was no street, no house
no fine moss-lined hotel
where you waited for me.
There was no city where you’d fall in my arms,
wall white, staggered by human blood
that rains on roofs.
I did run after you
from Warsaw to Havana
with the memories of tanks, saxophones
and throbbing, wild movies.
I wanted to seduce you
but I only saw your veil of iron,
your veil of ocean.
I think of you with the shame
and rage of a life
that has been half-eroded
like a shoe worn down on one side.
I’m jealous but I don’t accuse you.
Go and flaunt your bare, dark loins.
Your feverish thighs that could send
less deserving boys than me to heaven.
Your linden-blossom scent will do for me
and the leaf-veined sky
that your breath drives in my face.

(translated by Nicholas Kolumban)

*

Poets frequently address poetry in one way or another, often as if it had a body, as if it walked among us. The frequent appearance of such poems may or may not prove that it does, but whatever poetry is, it is always just out of reach. The poet’s medium, language, is not equal to what poetry asks of the poet–it can’t quite get him there, wherever there happens to be. Csoori’s vision of poetry as ever elusive is useful, and I think true. Those who think they have found her, have had her “feverish thighs,” discover it is not poetry they have found. “Go and flaunt your bare, dark loins,” he says finally, “Your linden-blossom scent will do for me,” even as he has just recounted his mud-shod plodding after her. I like this seemingly half-hearted confession, because, on the one hand, it seems honest with a certain juvenial relinquishment. We are all boys in poetry’s presence. George Oppen captures this in his poem “Boy’s Room”:

A friend saw the rooms
Of Keats and Shelley
At the lake, and saw ‘they were just
Boys’ rooms’ and was moved

By that. And indeed a poet’s room
Is a boy’s room
And I suppose that women know it…

On the other hand, it points to something important about the nature of poetry, or to be more exact, about the relationship of the poet to poetry. To put it bluntly, the poet can’t have her. At least not like those “less deserving boys” who, once sent to heaven, are forced immediately back to earth.

Too much contemporary poetry, it seems to me, is intent on plumbing experience for subject matter only in order to make something like poetry. Older poets, conversely, sought to use language only in the service of truth-telling. Which is why, as Wendell Berry tells us, they invoked the Muse. Berry: “The truth the poet chose as his subject was perceived as superior to his powers…” Csoori’s ultimate shyness before poetry (his half-hearted, though beautifully rendered, contentment in the last few lines) places the poet where he belongs–always walking toward her, into her breath, but never finally reaching her.

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