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In addition to animals hopping, crawling, and flying all over the place, Lux’spoems often include heavy objects—big things, things with mass, and weight, as if one of the truths in his poetic vision is this: the human condition is, partly, all about working against a most primary constant: gravity.
You see it in subtle, yet profound ways, in this, one of my all-time favorite poems:
AN HORATIAN NOTION
The thing gets made, gets built, and you’re the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It’s how a thing gets made – not
because you’re sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky,
or God says: Here’s a nice family,
seven children, let’s see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this one
Kierkegaard, this one a drooling
nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do – birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever – and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,
the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosophere.
And with that you go to work.
And a glimpse in this other, wonderfully enigmatic poem:
They are, the surfaces, gorgeous: a master
pastry chef at work here, the dips and whorls,
squeezes of cream from the tube
to the tart, sweet bleak sugarwork, needlework
toward the perfect lace doily
where sit the bone-china teacups, a little maze
of meaning maybe in their arrangement
sneaky obliques, shadow
allusives all piling
atop one another. Textures succulent but famished,
banal, bereft. These surfaces,
these flickering patinas,
if you could drill, or hack,
or break a trapdoor latch, if you could penetrate
these surfaces’ milky cataracts, you
like a hope chest full of lead
to nowhere, no place, a dry-wind, sour,
and you would keep dropping,
motion, over and over for one day, six days, fourteen
decades, eleven centuries (a long time
falling to fill a zero) and in that time
not a leaf, no rain,
not a single duck, nor hearts, not one human, nor sleep,
nor grace, nor graves–falling
to where the bottom, finally, is again the surface,
which is gorgeous, of course,
which is glue, saw- and stone-dust,
which is blue-gray
ice, which is
the barely glinting grit
What does all this stuff mean, you wonder? And that’s the point. We are entranced by the surfaces, by the evocation of the poem, but we don’t always get an easy truth handed to us. That’s what perception—and life—are like.
You also see it in “And Still It Comes” a headlong rush of a poem, a contemporary replacement for William’s “Red Wheelbarrow” with the poem’s rush of speed and solidity, as contrasted to Williams’ static wheelbarrow and literally light-as-a-feather chickens.
AND STILL IT COMES
like a downhill brakes-burned freight train
full of pig iron ingots, full of lead
life-size statues of Richard Nixon,
like an avalanche of smoke and black fog
lashed by bent pins, the broken-off tips
of switchblade knives, the dust of dried offal,
remorseless, it comes, faster when you turn your back,
faster when you turn to face it,
like a fine rain, then colder showers,
then downpour to razor sleet, then egg-size hail,
fist-size, then jagged
laser, shrapnel hail
thudding and tearing like footsteps
of drunk gods or fathers; it comes
polite, loutish, assured, suave,
breathing through its mouth
(which is a hole eaten by a cave),
it comes like an elephant annoyed,
like a black mamba terrified, it slides
down the valley, grease on grease,
like fire eating birds’ nests,
like fire melting the fuzz
off a baby’s skull, still it comes: mute
and gorging, never
to cease, insatiable, gorging
Can I just say this: headlong?
You have to love poems with slaves, buboes, ingots, Richard Nixon statues, and sneaky obliques. I sure hope he reads at least one of these poems at the Writer’s Studio.