Sometimes it pays to revisit an old friend, such as this splendid poem by Paul Guest, posted in Slate in 2005."Nice" is the word that comes to mind when I read "Water"; a man and woman of undetermined age or relation-husband and wife, lovers, strangers just met in the parking lot or local library?-- visit an aquarium whose inhabitants of snout nosed fish and spine coated sturgeons moves them to do the deed in an elevator, surrounded by water, tons of it, contained in tanks in which the fish of the world swim. It's very nice in the sense in that it operates cinematically, a seamless move from what the narrator was saying, presumably afterwards, away from the fish tanks, in a quiet minute between love makings, to the dissolution of all pretense of casual speech and the acting upon sheer lust.
There is so much poetry happening in the aftermath of seemingly meaningless couplings; the brain, especially the brain of a professional poet, is an meaning creating machine where the smallest items in the universe come to serve, after the fact, in the creation of a legend of good intentions and deeply felt loss over what goes unsaid at the time when the fleeting opportunity was there, waiting to be filled with meaningful talk.
Evidently the meaningful talk comes when the poet is alone, speaking to the mirror. I half expected to have the camera pull back just a little more and reveal the poet not only alone, speaking to a mirror, but also that the mirror and the room that contains it are situated inside a movie set, braced up with particle board and duct tape.What I like is that the poem doesn't explain its situation, and yet isn't busy being trying to be mysterious, cryptic , impenetrable. Penetration, if I may, is precisely what the poem is about, but fluidly so, in language of water, memory, things that seem to slow down jack hammering lust and brings one into momentary awareness of each sensation and twitch of limb and slide of presenting and receiving appendage. The world is all motion, smooth, fluid as water, every moment intense, nuanced, suspended in the mind yet over too soon. Our friend Paul has written the perfect erotic poem and furnished a perfect backdrop for the ideas he had been working over at the time he took up his keyboard to compose. A poem of intense tactile moments, reflecting on the incredible nature of surfaces, the spines of a fish, the skin of a lover, the regions unseen yet which beckon us as limbs, zippers and defenses against the world are surrendered and one is without arms in front of another person, taking the path of least resistance. We need to remember that this a poem, not a police report:
my place in the story I idly told you,
as we rose in the elevator,
as your hands found in my neck a knot
your fingers could untie
with ease. Love, you know
that language failed me
early with you: in my mouth you found
a hidden stammer. In all
the days since, what have I said
that was right? So little.
But know: when we stood on one side
of thick glass to watch
a world of water ignore our entire lives,
I kissed your fingers
and each one in that light was blue.
This reads to me very much like the beginnings of a seduction, with the woman taking the initiative with her bookish, nervous companion. There is much to assume here because much is suggested--not said outright, but teasingly suggested-- and it's not inappropriate to infer what might continue, off the page, out of view, based on what evidence Paul gives out. I wrote earlier that this poem reads as if it were a daydream, wherein the material reality and the objects in immediate proximity serve as counterpoint to the narrator's
arousal, more metaphor for a sort of slow, fluid action he is thinking of acting upon as soon as he is able to conclude his spoken foreplay. Absolutely nothing might have happened, of course, but the purpose of this poem is more about how the senses run over reason and will virtually change the texture of real life.
The poem has that "fade to black" feel to it. The lens goes dark, and we can only assume that the best of what's possible between men and women is taking place away from public view. But the poem has a lyric, appealing unreality to it, a surreal sensation wherein the act of recall is more intense, more spectacular than the actual event from which we compose a history. Paul, I think, may be inclined to have us in between all the sensations, all the associations of tactile arousal.The narrator's perception is skewered by his attraction to his companion, and everything around him--fish tanks, lights, odors, surfaces--are aligned in his psyche to underscore his emerging desire. I spoke in a previous post as well as the things of this world seeming more props on a set in the effort to bolster the pitched desires being described. Since it remains ambiguous what actually happens between the two after "I kissed your fingers/and each one in that light was blue " the "fade to black" remark is a perfectly reasonable thing to say.I like this poem because, among other things, I've written dozens like this because I'm an incurable romantic who finds it easy to write an enthused lyric about the mysteries of women.