Sunday, November 18, 2007

Frank Bidart's "Candidate"

Frank Bidart’s “Candidate” seems constructed from the rubble of what used to be a man’s life; someone who thought they’d change the world, set it on fire, inspire legions to do the same. Bidart is at that age when a man’s interior life has segued from the future they are going to mold with their plans to forge a revolution in the consciousness of their time, or at least achieve a number of goals that will confirm them as men of action and into a continual review of what one has done, what corners have been shaved from the building blocks of an unsustainable integrity. The man, the one volunteering himself for a cause , or feeling himself selected for higher purpose, has his reminders of the assumptions he started with, a gathering of incidental and banal things.

on each desk mantel refrigerator door

an array of photographs
little temple of affections

you have ironically but patiently made


Those promises that make us confront
our ambition, pathetic ambition:

confront it best when we see what it
promised die. Your dead ex-wife

you put back on the mantel
when your next wife left. With her iron

nasals, Piaf regrets NOTHING: crazed
by the past, the sweet desire to return to


Melancholy is the mood, the world is fragmented, made of shards and bits of things that used to be whole that are now in various stages of dis assembly; a double hardship, a deeper heartache of regret. One is stuck with the things that there is no use for, unable to throw them away lest more of what someone had been is gone. And the remains , the photographs, the key lines of old recordings, mock him. One of his wives is dead and there is only a mulling over of the last words they spoke to each other before she passed, a loop of words he interrogates and inspects and replays at varying imagined speeds to find a clue of what went wrong, what he should have done,picked up on. He hangs himself nightly with the snapshot.Piaf regrets nothing, of course, but this man regrets liking Piaf’s assertion because he once used it, doubtless, as a slogan for his perfectly formed future. But Edith Piaf was a singer performing someone else’s lyric, and her voice is a recording of a sentiment that will not, cannot change, fluctuate with time; it is the same strong, strident exclamations, the exact same nuances, pauses, rushes against a back beat, the same surface pops and scratches. The protagonist is in a life that had to change lest he cease to be meaningfully engaged with what matters for him. Lest he cease to be.

Undisenthralled you
regret what could not have been

otherwise and remain itself.
There, the hotel in whose bar you courted

both your wives is detonated, collapsing;
in its ballroom, you conceded the election.

There's your open mouth

A good photograph tells you everything
that's really going on is invisible.

You are embarrassed by so many
dead flowers. They lie shriveled before you.

This is a man who has feels himself vanishing, the trail of each compromise and evolution he’s had in his game plan , and the places where these changes occurred and thus construct the complicated, rueful, meditative character in this poem are being torn down. Soon there will be nothing left of him in the landscape he once had memorized and could tell personal stories about. An actual election takes place, perhaps? Confidence and easy answers worn to the nub, an agenda adjusted, modified, shaved, finally abandoned by circumstances large and lethal to a soul’s vibrancy, we have a character locked in a backwards glare. This is a man who cannot see what still stands, but only that which is ruined and ragged with time.

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