from Jack Gilbert's Monolithos
When I looked at the stubborn dark Buddha
I set up the detonator. There was still six minutes
so I began to sing. Build and sing.
I might be going back, and there would be a pause.
It is important you ignore it. I am fine.
i. Translation into the Original
So there I was out in the starlight
in my bright condition, a neighborhood
I am the darkness of, of Gianna.
And I am happy through the dark at Biloxi,
at night else? I remember when I got quiet.
I am not interested in discussing it.
The prey I am willingly prospers along the Seine
when I was always alone. Yes, my King. Rain
and bestows and I return nothing. Go cross-grain through
where I walked, perfecting and growing old
through any keyhole. I went on, carrying the fish
when I had to piss. She stopped just beyond
out of her body. I lie in the smell
I provided for death and visions I said
were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal.
All those I have been are the generalization that tastes.
Have I come this far, stubborn, disastrous way?
ii. It May Be No One Should Be Opened
What I remember of my nine-story fall:
I go without audible music, flying heavily
broken in turn. I walk through the energy of this slum
to myself what I really wanted was this clarity,
smell of jasmine, and I long for a life
I would burrow into stone. Into iron.
I begin the long inaccuracy alone,
I know the business of the whales
but I must explain that I will probably cry
without raising our voices. Finally, I hope birds,
who are vast cloud-chambers of the place I am in,
(despite the steady gladness where I have made landfall)
insist, insist, at least until I fail,
iii. And She Waiting
I walk here singing there by the fire
and around to the side, until I could see into the library
of those walruses pretending to be lovers. I was
down pain wherever I can get it. Commonly, I provide
age and moderation. And I am frightened
dutifully, as always, until I find I am neither priestly
nor tired, and the great knowledge model
I have carpentered together. I see these breasts
for the women I have, so I try not staring.
I’ve been at this all month with the bewildering tenderness
of which I am unnatural. What I master by day
I regretted the rain. It made me emotional
all the way to Indonesia. I had crazy ideas of what it was.
But did we share or alternate? Was I with Gianna?
At first I thought she was retarded. She was probably drunk.
From here I deal with my irrelevance to love.
I sit masturbating in the moonlight.
That’s what I want. I wake to the freshness.
And do reverence, wondering
if the quiet I feel is that happiness.
Note: One of the most obvious aspects of contemporary mainstream poetry is its unproblematic use of the first-person singular. This “I” is supposed to be absolutely unitary, providing a point of stability every bit as fixed as Descartes’ Cogito. This strikes me as essentially reactionary, as if these poets reject the uncertainty of living in a world in which we’re bombarded with information from a variety of different media, and in which various psychotherapies and psychoanalyses have shown just how irreducibly multiple identity really is. Of course, poets as diverse as Catullus, Shelley, and Dickinson (to name just a few) understood this centuries before the advent of cable television or the Internet.
Instead of merely kvetching about this reliance on the “I,” I decided to multiply it. To write (or assemble) these poems I went through books by Jack Gilbert (Monolithos) and Billy Collins (Nine Horses), and made a list of every line that contained the word “I.” I then arranged them, sometimes changing line breaks but preserving everything else.