Friday, March 4, 2011

David Blair's Argument with Heaven

In some sense most of the poems we read tease the edges of a death wish, not in the sense that the poet desires to merge with the molecules and greet the large dark before him, but rather more like a curious soul daring the unknown and the unspoken dimension of human experience, the end of one's life, to reveal some knowledge. David Blair's  "A Poem About Heaven" poem seems something like that, a fragmented, giddy swirl of associations that have been triggered by his mother's death; what this mind creates isn't a metaphysical speculation on ideal associations remaining permanent while the flesh fails, or an autobiography to where another's mortality furnishes the punch line to one of the chapters, but rather a rush of sensation, of images, associations that bump, careen and otherwise swerve around one another.   As with the issue of rage, unleashed anger, overwhelming the mind to the degree that the world is presented as linked in a sequence of irrational targets that have misery to one's life, the shock that precedes the onslaught of grief is full of sensations of being whisked around a gallery of past events, significant and inane details dovetailing into one another against rational association. The silly and the sublime are not so much linked as they are twined and untwined in what seems like pulverizing vortex.
I am such an impressionist.
My legs get cold;
my arms get cold,
weird thinking of my mom dying
in my old bedroom, now the den.
And kneeling is weird. The northern lights, 
weird. Arcade lights. Wildwood, New Jersey,
weird, inside my eyelids. But I'm not thinking
of Poe again and the dance of colors.
I'm thinking of the hierarchy
that my mind wants Heaven to be.
A house keeping is suddenly in order, a reinforcing of what one knows in their world is required; Blair gives is a hurried desperation of one examining the things of their world, their experience, their accumulation of habits, talents, material things, in an attempt to repair the gap a family death creates. What he does here with the fast jumps between stanzas, the giddy and the reserved clamoring against each other to set the tone for the young man's attention, is create the sensation of being in free fall. It's not unlike being thrust into the reality of an old cartoon where the coyote, during his chase, missed the bend in a mountain pass and finds itself in mid air, falling only when it realizes that there is nothing supporting his feet; I think the feeling of spiraling down, clawing at the air for anything that might be there to grab onto, is unmistakable.
Why else
these figures
from a deck of cards,
kings and queens kneeling down to Jesus
in the neon shoreline,
tunnel of love, of horrors, boardwalk
attractions—
only these
are blissful religious figures. They kneel 
because they are weak in the knees.
So much goes through the mind, combinations of shock, anger, denial, fleeting relief; the narrator argues against the concept of heaven and assigns the kneeling tribute to a Jesus figurine not as an acknowledgement to divine presence but rather to weak minds or merely fatigue, insist instead that the things in the world he has grown to know, his family, friends, his community, have a significance that provides him with everything with everything Heaven was promised to be. The doubt is palpable, and the argument Blair's narrator tries to make lacks coherence, but this is someone trying to regain their balance, to brace themselves for the inevitable rituals he knows are coming.
<i>I go back downstairs
to a house full of the voices
of all my family, my whole life,
sure, we are going there.
 
There comes the point in all of this frantic self-scrutiny where one the dissonant, radio like static of doubt, denial, anger becomes white noise of kind and fades and one is left numb, finally, alone with a stark
set of facts that makes the best lyric poetry and most inclusive philosophies seem no more than an archive of chiseled sophistry; there is the irreducible fact that whatever one thinks the meaning of their life happens to be, whatever one thinks about how things should be or how they should turn out, that however high or low one climbs or descends on the scale of measurable things , we all, finally, going to the same place. Blair's protagonist, it seems to me, isn't at this moment convinced that it will be place where they will all meet again; he is convinced, though, that it will be a situation when the arguments stop and there is a peace only eternity, by any definition, can provide.I think of the last lines as a paraphrase of Samuel Beckett's famous line " I can't go on, I'll go on." The whole enterprise of living becomes an intolerable burden, and yet one pushes further and deals with what's in front of them--family, job, friends, --because one cannot simply resign from their commitments. It's not that one cannot resign, of course, only that it's not simple. Blair's narrator by poem's end appears to come out of the conflictied swirl of sensations and decided to return to the family that quarrels, cries and banters, thinking , perhaps, that in the meantime, the time before one's own demise, it's better to be amid the clamor of the irresolute than be be  self-sustaining and isolated.

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