Saturday, April 16, 2011

from Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour " (1959)


...One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town....
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
"Love, O careless Love...." I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat....
I myself am hell;
nobody's here---

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air ---
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

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I've been reading the 1994 Lowell biography by Paul Mariani. I never liked Lowell much as a person to begin with, and much less after reading the facts (my poem):

He smashes his first wife's face, twice,
drowns their three orange kittens goodbye...
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Lowell's "Life Studies" (where "Skunk Hour" is from) is a touchstone for Plath, Sexton, the poetry world in general. And so I re-read it just to get back in touch with what was going on in 1959, pre Everything. There's a lot of extraneous shit in the book, a lot of at-the-time AND latter-day hype, for both the book and the author. But "Life Studies" in general and "Skunk Hour" in particular is TRULY pure and new, a real breakthrough in intimate, psychologically profound language.

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