Natalie Lyalin Week (4): Guest Post by Seth Landman
The world was not yet discovered.
It traveled in a galaxy of dinosaur bones and other fossils.
Embedded and waiting. Waiting for decades
when the skirts were different.
When Mr. O watered his plants in a light blue shirt with a breast pocket,
His hair slicked back, he boarded a plane to Africa, where the lion still
walked in bursts of grass.
In his light blue rental car, Mr. O took photos, very close photos, of lions resting.
There was nothing to report back.
The world lay silent. The giant squid was silent.
The continents were silent. It was quiet as he boarded the plane for home.
It was quiet in the diamond mines, it was quiet in the coal mines,
And the Loch Ness monster sighed and waited for sonar.
Poems can be like jokes, which is another way of saying I can interpret the world with my subjectivity. Everyone knows about expectations, undermining expectations in helpful / interesting ways; I laugh when I feel something sublime, and what is sublime can also be small and fragmentary. That’s not to say that the sublime is jokey; but joke-construction feels a lot like a poetry move to me.
Lisa Jarnot has a phrase in her poem “Ode” in Ring of Fire, “The rest of the balance continuing huge,” which I take to mean that everything that happens leaves me irrevocably altered; my head is not the same, and sometimes this phenomenon seems more obvious than others. A poem is a singularity, an axis, an invisible door to a new way of living. A joke is a language maneuver; it may not be hugely significant, but it alters the way we consider certain combinations of sounds, even when it does so almost imperceptibly.
I’ve been an interested reader of Natalie’s poems for six years now. I didn’t get into this whole discussion of jokes because I think Natalie’s poems are particularly jokey. On the other hand, Natalie’s poems seem to exist on the most serious end of the possible joke continuum, providing us with beginnings and endings in which the gap between our expectation and the language provided produces a moment of real electrical charge.
Let’s look at Natalie’s poem, “Vision,” which begins, “The world was not yet discovered.” In this beginning, we have a premise, a thought experiment, a mirror that looks back at you severely. Where are you in this conception? What are you thinking about? She goes on, “It traveled in a galaxy of dinosaur bones and other fossils. / Embedded and waiting. Waiting for decades / when the skirts were different.” This is not a joke; it’s the only good joke. Look at how much time we cover and how much we have changed. Natalie concentrates the vast array of possibilities down from a little world in a galaxy to differences in skirts in the sliver of geologic time which is represented by the tiny, sublime, human lifespan, of, for instance, Mr. O, “In his light blue rental car.” I love the immenseness of the particular here, how sad and ordinary details can be. It’s not a joke; it’s the opposite of a joke, which is not unlike a joke, actually.
As the poem goes on, things get very quiet: “The world lay silent. The giant squid was silent. / The continents were silent. It was quiet as he boarded the plane for home. // It was quiet in the diamond mines, it was quiet in the coal mines.” I’m amazed by at the build-up here, the amazing creation of tension out of images and repetition, as though I am viewing photographs of these scenes in the utter silence of my weird brain. What follows all of this silence is astounding, hilarious, and sublime – a joke which expands to fill the entire space available, “The rest of the balance continuing huge.”