Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Frank Gallimore's heart breaking elegy

Frank Gallimore's poem "Elegy for Miss Calico" got my attention and kept for several re-readings; something got under my skin. An itch one couldn't get to, perhaps. All the same, this poem is lovely, wonderful even, although it sets up a sad terrain of a homeless deaf prostitute making her way through the city using wits in place of the sense she lacks. Gallimore writes this with a particular empathy of someone who discovers the crucial truth of how sounds mold a sense of the world, and how language, the arrangement of specific words in intuitive yet musically sensed arrangements might create vivacity that exceeds what a normal array of the senses would give you.

When they fished her out, the eastbound roared
through necklaces of skyline, or so I remember,
or so I say. By rust-ravaged fronts, I sensed
a hustler's craft, device of handshake and for-the-best,
while there lay syringes by which to tune his happiness.
I used to watch his girls cluster like flowers on a mock-
terrazzo ledge, pressed on a barred patio. I'd watch her coo,
make mouths of inscrutable lingo for the long lash of his body.
And O the too-short calico dress, hand-me-down,
arranging itself on the breeze of his battered porch.

There's a hint of a Leonard Cohen song here, ah homage to "Suzanne" or another crazy lady he's come across in the lower reaches of the city who's mental infirmity he thinks may be a hint of divine clarity. But as Cohen has been the observer, sensual yet detached in the evocations of the poor making their way through the long shadows of urban disregard, Gallimore does not forget the weight the burden of existing as one does can be. There is gravity here, a physical gravity that is not about grace or profundity or suggested states of elevated being; it's about an observed life who's oddiments and quirky habits are signs of survival skills honed and codified; a life lived in the present tense, hard and silent, but nuanced with the touch of the surfaces of the world, the aromas of the earth, nuanced in dimensions that are inexplicable to the better heeled.This poem swims, skips, pirouettes, performs elegant dance steps across the long room, ram ping up the emotional impact of matching hard fact with accurate , fleet-footed allusions. The power of this poem is Gallimore's sure-handed refusal to affect the clinical detachment a generation of tone-deaf writing program graduates have shown us and instead dives straight into the heart of the sound of the words and the emotions they can evoke if joined in certain , intuitively sparked ways.

There is an admirable command here of the allusions, the metaphors, the sqarely arranged similes that places everything in a world that is colorful, full of smells and layers of history, both political, cultural, personal, which presents the city, the narrator and his subject, the deaf homeless woman, with the concentration being empathy, not sentimentality. I have been hard of hearing all my life, have had many operations to correct the situation and have worn hearing aids for years, and what draws me to this poem among other splendid items is the way Gallimore writes like someone who relishes the potential for words to create a music that inspires, saddens, evokes a richness of emotion; but I also admire the discipline of the poet for not overwriting. Empathy is his intention, obviously, but not at the sacrifice of aesthetic worth, The combination here makes this that rare Slate poetry offering: a poem that's truly unforgettable.

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