Friday, November 02, 2007

Tongue forked to flick at nothing in particular


Desert










Desert

is the true gothic

what lightness to guide
sunshine like
new tongued lithium

sucking last life
out of surprised cactus
and never
praying for rain

what obscure world
what mind to be in
that could come close
to your deliverance

think snake even thinks of you

think sun sets once
with you in mind

try lizard mercy
sun mercy
cactus
snake
sand
tongue forked to flick
at nothing in particular

your own absence


-----------------------------------------------

Way back 10 years ago to get to my new grad school in San Fran, I drove (with my brother) for two days from Austin through south Texas and the south of Arizona and New Mexico and California. The landscape was horrifying to me. Utterly barren and desolate. It reminded me at the time of the bottom of the ocean floor... turns out, as I later learned, that exact same part of the country was indeed covered by ocean. Weird and otherworldly, and I didn't feel comfortable around it at all and couldn't wait to get out of there.

Just today, though, at work I was reading a story by an author who'd grown up around the desert and loved it. He wrote about how comfortable he felt there with its "wide open beauty" as opposed to the dense, "scary," thickness of forests! Well, sure, if I'd been an early explorer, I might have found forests' density a bit scary (what's going to jump out at me??)...But at least I would have also figured that such density was life-sustaining... The desert just seems horribly barren and life-draining to me. Nowhere to go for help.

Reminds me of a party-argument I had with a guy years ago... What would be worse: Being in the wild confronted with a bear, or being on a city street confronted with a criminal? I picked the criminal---he might hit you and take your money, but in most cases he's not going to cut you all to bits. And, there are always people around in a city to hear you scream and help you! (Well, unless you're Kitty Genovese...)

I wrote the above poem while I was in my poetry program in San Fran 10 years ago. My professor (who later went on to fame as the author of "Under the Tuscan Sun") found fault that I had compared "desert" to "gothic"----granted, the two "landscapes" are quite different... But when I wrote the poem, I was thinking, "Damn, I'd be a lot less scared in a decadent, dead-people-haunted European castle than in this godforsaken utterly barren land!"

Darn that I don't have my whole collection of poetry books here with me in NYC... But in Ted Hughes's "Birthday Letters," he writes about his and Sylvia Plath's visit to the same exact part of the country...and how horrifying it was to them, as well. I searched fruitlessly online for a copy of Hughes's poem "The Badlands," a look back at the trip that he and Plath took across that part of America... They were really spooked! They actually camped for a night there, unlike me, who just passed through... A line of the Hughes poem, that he attributed to Plath saying, was something like "They want our life force"... The desperate desert creatures wanting to grasp onto the visitors' spirits...

If anyone out there has a copy of this poem from "Birthday Letters" and can share it here, I'd appreciate it----I explain things poorly! :)

2 comments:

FIST FUCK said...

The sheer fact that you are awake at 3:30am and thinking about me is the saddest thing in the world. That I am what you are thinking about on a Saturday night is MIND BLOWING. Seriously GET A FUCKING LIFE BITCHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Beth Austin said...

Um...what part of the above poem of mine that I posted Friday made you so sure that I was "awake at 3:30am and thinking about" YOU on a Saturday night? :P

That's what's so bizarre to me...If I'm re-reading it correctly, the poem is about freaking out at the desert's utter barrenness, based on my trip out west in the mid-1990s...

How, exactly, does this relate to YOU?? What a psycho guy-mentality!