Bathed in Dust and Ash
Maybe Heraclitus was right, maybe
everything is fire. The lovers,
exhausted, unknot like slick ribbons,
the sirens fade to silver ash. Knock
at the door, no one there, voices
coming through the floor, spring
all morning, winter by afternoon,
dense rhymes of foliate argument,
laughter from passing cars. Fire
swallowed and regurgitated from which
all life comes, bees returning
to their hives to dance, hawks feeding
their gaping chicks, variables
in alternate currents you almost
lived, if you had married him,
if you had stayed, a future begun
as marks on a nearly transparent page.
So the shadows vanish and return
carrying their young in their jaws,
and the man who still thinks he’s a man
and not a column of smoke, sits
in his idling car, and the woman
who still thinks she’s a woman and not
climbing a staircase in flames,
bites her lips before she speaks.
The poet I think should have won the Pulitzer this year was Dean Young. I first came across Young’s poetry three months ago, when a poem of his called ‘Static City’ showed up on the back cover of the American Poetry Review. The only other thing by him I’ve read is the collection that was shortlisted for the Pulitzer – elegy on toy piano – and it’s a truly delightful book. Young is the true heir of Corso, a sort of erudite beat poet, Bukowski with a PhD. His poems are whimsical and intense and witty and irreverent and endlessly experimental and laced every now and then with some searing image or heartbreaking line, like the biting taste of neat vodka in a strawberry daiquiri. The poems I’ve picked to post here (there’s another one coming up tomorrow) are the more serious ones (I don’t trust myself to do justice to the humour in his more playful work) but this is a collection of poems you want to get your hands on.
I really like this poem because of the way it develops that first opening statement, the skill with which that first paragraph is pulled off, the thrill of lines like “the shadows vanish and return / carrying their young in their jaws” and that lovely final stanza, that brings us so neatly back to the central conceit of the poem, and creates so indelible an image in my head.