Congrats to Caitlin Scarano and The Poet’s Billow for inclusion in the most recent Best of the Net anthology!
The pale horse
just got here.
His rider reassures
everyone there’s no need
People are transfixed
by the spectacle,
the headlines and next of kin,
the cortege and the parade,
the celebrated, the contaminated.
We’re to wait three weeks
for a fever.
I’m sure he meant well,
but I think that cowboy
was trying to sell us something.
Short-haired dogs don’t like the cold;
twiggy legs shake and shiver.
Put a fleece coat on that fellow.
He won’t ask for it; you should
just know he needs it.
Determined to scrub the film
from my skin, remove the unclean
stick of it, I impose detergent and might
against this shield that in fact keeps me clean.
Its very nature, viscous and stubborn, presupposes
that I’ll attempt to undo it.
I inhabit a wise design
that in the end always outsmarts me.
Bare-skinned and squeaky clean for
mere moments before the film slides
back over, like a mother’s infinite reach,
though I continually refuse the anointing.
Vintner, physician of the ferment,
undertaker of the vine, perverts
nature in reviving the grape gone
widdershins of ordinary decay.
A fruit zombie, raised up
from the oaken grave
to toast life.
Writers know the best tool for objective critique of work they are attached to is time. A few weeks, months, sometimes even years have to go by before I can look at a piece and say, “this passage doesn’t work,” so I cut away, and it’s painless.
There are poems I’ve loved and thought would always stand up to that scrutiny, but when finally seen though a matured, seasoned eye, make me cringe. Some pieces transform easily into well-crafted, sophisticated poems with a little pruning and tweaking.
And others, I just don’t want to touch.
I’m inclined to lump all my older stuff together as “bad, immature, pretentious,” but I come across poems I feel are strong, for the time in which they were written. I may be encountering works I’m not able to improve simply because I’m just not that skilled a poet. A writer with a keener eye may see where to delete a redundant word or improve a clunky phrase, and may deftly execute those revisions. I’m just not there.
I wonder though, if it is the destiny of some poems, or certain artistic creations of any medium, to remain forever imperfect, and not just slightly off the mark, but really outright bad. I wonder now if I just have to let a bad poem be a bad poem, because that is its purpose.
I, in fact am the personification, the human embodiment of this idea.
Try as I might, and I do make meager attempts at perfection and excellence, I’m thwarted in these endeavors repeatedly. Some people shine, excel, triumph. I’m just happy if I don’t tip over.
I’m flawed, imperfect, a practiced underachiever. But there is some relief in accepting this. I feel peace in surrendering to this very low bar.
So when I come across a poem that doesn’t measure up, but I have no idea how to fix it, I bless the work with the understanding that it’s fulfilled its mission as bad poem, making a mental note to put it in the burn pile before I die.
And sometimes, all I have to do is change the title.