Before reading us her poem, she clears
her throat, apologizes to "all of you
who may already know," and explains:
"Couvre-pieds are comforters, chenille
means caterpillar in French, and swodzik,
on a Polish tongue, is artificial sugar.
Cruppen doun indicates bent with age
in Scots. The Argentine ni fu ni fa
may be taken as: neither this nor that."
Can my middle-aged mind retain
such polyglottony? On my left,
a paramour of hers -- I've spotted
his orange-zest hair before --
takes notes in trendy text-mess
lingo: Arg 4 not ths/tht.
"The epigraph, from Paul, employs
a mélange of RSV and King James
translations, except for foothold,
lifted from the more recent NIV."
(With all these footnotes, how long
will the evening's first poem last?)
"The verse form is borrowed from
the neglected rigoletto, a semi-epic"
(the answer to my query) "poem
in ottava rima that opens with a boast
and possesses a stanza ultima that begs
forgiveness." (Shall we likewise be
petitioned?) "And how could I forget?
A few more facts before I start:"
(Ere lang, mi darlin' dearie,
we'll a' be cruppened doun!)
"1155 alludes to Genghis Kahn's
nativity, 1632 to Spinoza's death,
and 1972, of course, to Jane Fonda's
Oscar for her performance in Klute."
Then, as if about to tell an anecdote,
the poet pauses, removes her bifocals,
holds a smile. We get it: her prologue
actually was the poem. Applause
travels through the auditorium.
And I am relieved there'll be no
semi- or demi- or hemi-epic aimed
our way from the podium. But am I
simple-minded to doubt this in-joke's
poetry? Or am I simply too old school?
Impatient, I want to say "¡Dílo ya!
Spit it out already! A real poem!"
I turn to my side and the rufous youth,
grinning, tosses his wild mane in awe.
A whoop the size of Texas explodes
from his mouth. It tickles and dismays:
at home, my own Oklahoma honey
is temporarily -- endlessly? -- mute.
A verse that's lost if read out loud?
He's here/not here, ni fu ni fa; tucked
in a place he heads to sort life out --
always in silence (his second language,
almost untranslatable). "Context, context --
context holds the keys," I heard an expert
once opine. And please, don't ask me
who -- I've lost my notes. But I know
this will not last. I trust our past.
I know my lover's silence will not last.