Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last Resort

A poem from Rafael Campo lights up the current issue of slate, "Resort" finds a son watching the aged father sun himself while on holiday, staring at a visage that is already wonderful, and yet with a fixity that causes one to think he may be peering beyond the veneer of appearance. One wonders as well if his mind, at this stage of life, is acting as an editor of and is leeching meaning and associations from the activity that happens the old man's eyes . In some ironic way there seems to be a serenity that one wishes for when they get older, an acceptance that life will become an even playing field and that wisdom will inform the brain and the heart to remain calm, to breathe deep, and appreciate the moment one is ; the fear is that acceptance has nothing to do with the calm, the unnerving serenity, as that applies an application of will. It is, rather, age, a fading memory, the world becoming something like a Wallace Stevens terrain, pure , perfect shapes and arrangements, with the father being only one element an assortment of other things.


No one
is poor. Like lions caged too long, the waves
loll lazily along the beach. He stares
out at the bright horizon, lost in thought.
I wonder if his memories might hurt.
Tonight, beneath a moon as clear and plain
as need, we'll drink banana daiquiris.
He'll ask the mariachi band to play
a Cuban song, which they'll almost get right.
But in the morning, he must realize,
we'll still awaken here. Same sun, same sea:
the simulation, if more dream than real,
is close enough...



The son wonders what his father is thinking about and wonders if the quiet state is either a profound contemplation of things , or the consequence of lack of thought. Campo doesn't belabor the point or lard up this lyric with a routine confession or lacerating self-examination, but achieves instead a nearly perfect three way balance between a beautiful location, a qualified projection of another's thoughts, and the narrator's own undecidedness about his father's state of mind and comfort; it's a skillfully arranged scenario where a complex interaction of detail and perception are conveyed in language that presents the dueling impressions of exterior beauty and psychic restlessness.

Beyond that, of course, is the perennial mind/body split, voiced in terms of whether a person of diminished capacity is getting the most for their money as they are situated in a beautiful clime, during a perfect day. Nature, though, cares nothing of our aesthetic situation, in fact does not think at all and merely exists as ceaseless churning process, a notion that comes back to us at the end of our contemplation that despite our desires that our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters and, perhaps ourselves, live forever, in memory if not monument, we are mortal and part of the natural process we want to tame with vacation and leisure time, and that the clock is always running out.


The birds-of-paradise,
though mute and flightless, still preen in the breeze.
And even as the clock runs out for all of us, the perfect arrangements of the Wallace Stevens landscape remains, and assortment of objects and natural things gathered in a space as perfected forms, each placed where roots might grow or dust may gather, silent, unmoving, in place, balancing a frame so it does not topple over. There is the old distinction between phenomena, those things of the world that are perceived through the senses, and noumenon , things that independent of the senses , things in-and-of-themsleves. The first would describe that which man can know, an environment he can define and outline in terms of his own senses and biography, and the second , those things that are knowable only to God. I don't know how religious Wallace Stevens might have been, but he loved being in the second terrain, among those objects that are seen from a point of view that is free of the inevitable subjective filters , a dimension where what we think or what we've experienced matters not at all and the forms are just forms, beautiful in their purity, unsullied by experience.
The son, the old man, the resort, the birds-of-paradise are elements to some design that is unrevealed. Campo, I think, could be making the suggestion that the aesthetic rigor to isolate these scenes from autobiographically inclined interpretation is part of an attempt to grasp the larger mysteries of existence we would otherwise go to religion or philosophy for. Life, whatever it's means, goes on. The beauty that one had beheld with their senses will not vanish once one has departed their flesh; the beautiful things remain, other sensibilities will argue their qualities. And when they are gone, birds-of-paradise and like things will still preen in the wind.The point seems that the frame remains, nature is constant and self correcting , that our imaginative alignments of what actually exists beyond our senses go with us when we go