Monday, April 2, 2012

Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides

This poem comes from a book called Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides by Stephen Dobyns. This book and another by him, Velocities, are the reasons that Dobyns was one of my first poetry loves, and I've never quite gotten over him.  Pallbearers  is a collection of poems in which a human heart is personified and speaks about different aspects of his life in each piece.  Heart is a well-meaning, somewhat bumbling character and he's lonely.  What I love about both books is that the poetry doesn't try too hard.  It reads as though Dobyns jotted down some notes on the back of a napkin and somehow it got published.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Dobyns is an expert and this is evidenced in Best Words, Best Order, a collection of essays about poetry.    This book is a little intimidating, especially if you're new to poetry and unfamiliar with some of the terms associated with tone & meter, but I highly recommend it.  Bring a highlighter; you'll feel like you're getting smarter by the minute.  By the way, He's also written over 20 novels, nine poetry collections, and teaches at the university level.


Like a Revolving Door

Heart feels sad. He’s tired of being a heart
and wants to be a lung. A lung never lacks
a sister or a brother. He wants to be a finger.
A finger always has a family. Or a spleen
which only feels anger and is never sad.
Sometimes Heart feels joyous, beats with vigor.
But then the old stories resurface again:
hardship, cruelty, the Human Condition.
A kidney never faces these problems alone.
The eyes in unison devise a third dimension.
Not by being solo do the ears create stereo.
But Heart must turn outward for comradeship,
to seek another heart, a journey fraught
with uncertainty. Like a revolving door –
such is falling in and out of love. And
the betrayals! Heart needs only to consult
his book of broken hearts to feel pessimistic.
But soon he puts on a fresh shirt and heads out
to the highway. He hangs a red valentine heart
from a stick so people will guess his business.
No matter that the sun is sinking and storm-
clouds thicken. Approaching headlights glisten
on his newly pressed shirt and on his smile
which looks a trifle forced. Dust catches in his hair
and makes him cough. Why is heart alone in the chest?
Because hope is an aspect of the single condition
and without hope, why move our feet? To see himself
as purely a fragment: such is Heart’s obligation.
Let’s quickly depart before we learn what happens.
Sometimes a car stops. Sometimes there is nothing.

—Stephen Dobyns






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