Do I contradict myself? A CMT poem with metaphors for disease, like a grizzly bear that shreds you but lets you live, maybe, to crawl your way downriver, eating ants, after you’ve been left by your friends and partners.
Susan Sontag was right about disease and metaphor, but poetry and other writing like her own is an exception. The power of fresh metaphor in poetry is that it makes you conscious of the possible non-literal relationships between things being compared, and something magical happens in that pictographic use of any/every language.
Here is one of the CMT-related poems I’ve written. There aren’t many. This was the first and is surely the longest. It’s in the long-line style of James Schuyler, who offered a really fun, liberating model a few 30/30s ago. The title nods to Frederick Manfred (AKA Feike Feikema) who wrote a historical-fictional account of the legendary mountain man Hugh Glass, loosely the basis for the film The Revenant.
I thought I could still run a few years ago, for at least a few miles, but it turned out even one was a bad idea. Then a knee started to defect going up stairs and slopes. Downhill was always controlled falling. If I catch a high on a warm day and ride it into the night, biking, climbing, or walking too far, drinking, eating, and not sleeping too much, I’ll need at least a day to recover now, a small price to pay for excess when too-little atrophies everything, especially the heart, and there is no in-between, just erring on one side or the other. Normally I err on the side of solitude, editing the spaces between words. This poem is a large part of a Saturday, so compared to others I’ve been lucky. If you walk without thinking ahead about falling, your instruments will never work right for Dixieland and the Blues; you are impaired from being a shiny, undented trumpet with all its valves. Unless you’ve compensated with other losses, or walked out of the elaborate blaze of years of lies laid around you as love, what have you got to say? I say I pretend to walk because I’m cheating that way. I can’t stand long without paying for it, but I will wash dishes barefoot on hard, tiled floors out of stubborn laziness at home, but at your house I’ll hide behind socks. An Army doctor swept a piece of paper cleanly under my toes once to show they don’t touch the ground, because I should have known something so obvious. What a fucking idiot, his face said, here to waste all our time, while he proved that I could levitate. Coping is always denial. It’s why wars are fought years after everyone knows they’re lost. It’s why parents want to encourage children to unrealistic ambitions. Both success and failure validates the old generals in their urgent belief in the madness of trying again, through proxies. Like chess, you have to play to the end. It’s a drawn out indignity, not honour. Watching your lesser pieces stacked like cordwood — it’s delay. Why make it quick? It’s not Life against Death, it’s Life against Time. We want to believe Death pauses on the sidelines when he is impressed by how little we regard him impaling rooks, knights, and decades whose time has come and passed. More likely he is bored. Fools, we are still advancing just as quickly toward him and the impossible victory. There is always hope in denial — and cheating. I can walk with my hips, with sticks (like Rockefellers), and in the winter, with my back. I ran a mile in less than six minutes once when I was caught in a herd that wasn’t going to run any slower, so I had no choice. The herd cheated for me, gave cover to my toes not touching the ground. It’s how an army works — carrying everyone along, even their dead, as long as you’re not offsides, lost behind enemy lines, adrift in society, looking for mercenary employment. Once I was baffled by Chomsky saying it’s amazing bodies work as well as they do, as if they are all broken, and I suppose they are, but the broken that is celebrated as healthy and normal must be a curse — a form of denial you inherit rather than earn by clawing your way into it. I see the pity in people who don’t see pain in everything, who not only bruise easily but think it’s a real wound that heals overnight. They’d need to scarify themselves every day to see time as an alpine flower does, saving up for a bloom once every ten or fifteen years. How can they hear what the wasted land is saying, as it writhes along under us? Moving under fire and exposed on open ground is the task of living, not its purpose. Confusing the two is to be bereft of reason, to lose the plot. We’d become Hugh Glass forever pulling himself across the tall grass after the grizzly got him, eating ants and not seeing the comedy of it, not seeing how the river shines whether you are going to make it or not. We would not be able to receive anything or forgive anyone in this blameless world.