Friday, March 13, 2009

A poem that walks over your grave

There are those I know, friends and former friends alike, who know it's well within my personality to become a fire-breathing jerk; though I prefer to regard myself as having an even temperament most of my awake time, there are those moments when something gets to me that will not let up. An annoyance, a complaint, the site of something ugly or something said that was offensive to my closely held (and improvised) standards as to how reality and it's subjects should arrange their affairs. Bear in mind, please , that I am seldom right when I go off on a toot, and my universal declarations about the exact nature of the world's wrongs are inappropriate, over stated, bigoted, unfair, the rantings of a salivating asshole. Even at my age, with the wisdom I've garnered from decades of mistakes I've learned from, I still have to make amends, apologize, repair the damage I've done during my lashing out. That said, bear in mind as well that these moments of rage binging are much scarcer than they were , say, twenty years ago. The point, I suppose , that knowing better is not enough.

But anger, being in a state of pique is seductive; quite suddenly, as the adrenaline flows and what had been a passing social glitch becomes a World View, the world gets smaller, I get larger, and all matters at hand and hidden, all business , entertainment, love and remorse become intertwined, connected, the world suddenly makes sense. The small irritations that had been collecting in the recesses of compartmentalized personality show their full fester at last and everything that one knows becomes a chain of related failures, betrayals, breakdowns, recriminations, all of which seem to be headed to one end, a single source for the source of the world's (nee my) discontents. It's much the same as being on a drug, and there is something awesome as one calms down and realizes the stress they'd just put themselves through--one wishes they could rage more and sustain the fleeting unity, but it is illusory. It's proof , for me a least, that my brain isn't my best friend when I've exhausted my wit.

What I've marveled at, though, is the associations that come to you when you've revved up your mind to function at the sharpest point of a perfect snit. Seamlessly, effortlessly, without resistance and without contradiction , you find yourself being like Hamlet equivocating brilliantly as he ponders a conspiratorial heaven that draws an ill map for him, or Lear, for that matter, going insane as he strips himself in the rain of the vestments of his power, real and symbolic, because the actual relationships so revealed to him are too much. It's poetry, the power to begin with the instance and utilize language to extend a psychology that places human worth below the philosophical certainty we might have been raised with.

Poet T.R.Hummer gets at this beautifully with his poem "Bad Infinity", a ram-rodding crash course of sensory overload that begins with a colonsocopy as a starting point and soon compresses the raw cycle the narrator speeds along:

During the colonoscopy, orbiting through twilight sleep,
***she felt, light-years distant in the interior darkness, a thump
And a dull but definite pain—as if someone were dragging,
***at the end of a rusty chain, a transistor radio through her body,
A small beige box with a gold grill, assembled by a child in southeast Asia
***in 1964—and she woke in groggy panic till the nurse made soothing noises
For her to sleep by, like a song in an alien language heard through static
***beamed from the far side of Arcturus: The Dave Clark Five's
"Glad All Over," maybe, tuned in by a boy in Thailand. Such a drug,
***the doctor said. Everything you feel you will forget.
Amen to that. Amen to plastic and silicon, amen to a living wage,
***amen to our tinny music, to the shrapnel in the IV drip,
Amen to the template of genes that keeps the body twitching
***and the wormhole in the gut of Orion I will slip through
When the chain breaks and the corroded battery bursts, its acids eating
***all the delicate circuitry that binds the speaker to the song.

Wonderfully done, powerfully done, this gets that state of helplessness as the subject, a woman under examination, feels the effects of the drug and the invasion o of her body, attempting to balance between a giving in to the process she's volunteered for and an attempt to maintain control, dignity, a small measure of power that couldn't robbed for her. Hummer has an ear for interesting coinages and odd juxtapositions , and understands the irrational references an addled thought process can take.

Hummer's technique avoids an explicit argument and side steps the rhetorical flourishes with which to make concrete details bring the reader to material point , preferring rather to allow the similarities he aligns in this string of association to bleed into one another as we come upon, perhaps, a metaphor that is delivered invisibly, nearly outside the poem, The body and the radio are made to be similar items, organic matter and technological device coming to the same fate, the eventual break down. Everything breaks down, falls apart, all things , whether the bodies of living creatures, buildings or mechanical devices, fall prey to age, wear, tear and spill their contents back onto the ground; all things release those things that give them an animating spark, including those machines designed to detect defects and indicate a means of real-world salvation. But all things fail, and a life is never truly saved but rather, at best, is allowed to linger longer. Hummer blitzing images and manic rhythm radiates the rage of someone who gets this emphatically; in the end we are reduced to the sum of our dissipated parts , with the attending terror that there is no salvation after the last pulse.

The probes feel like a cheap transistor radio playing a Dave Clark 5 song ironically called "Glad All Over" as the probes search for cancer cells,
and concludes, violently, hauntingly, with the tale of the imagined radio become personified and wearing out, the battery leaking acid, corroding the sheath that contains it. This language stream, equal parts brutal fact and drug enhanced delusion, combines what I hear is fear and anger meeting head on in equally forceful bursts, the result being something between acceptance and the last act of defiance . The beauty of it, of course, is that Hummer conveys this as a state one is currently in, with little in the way of set up, nor a clue as to what the post-examination results might be; this is not unlike walking into a room you thought was empty and finding someone in there alone, confessing secrets from some isolated area of their being to the shadows. Hummer makes us feel ill-at-ease and maybe a little as if someone had just walked over the spot where we'll eventually be buried. Or scattered. Not many writers do that for me.


  1. This is a careful, gracefully written, and fair account of the poem, Ted; thanks for it.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Hummer. I appreciate a poem that is written from within a state of mind, and not as witness weighing empirical details. It's difficult to make the poems work, but you succeed.


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