Apparition Poems : Walking the Square



A tentative structure I’ve divined around Apparition Poems has to do with what seem to be the four most salient themes of the book: the city, the night, sex, and art. The city is usually Philadelphia; New York, Montreal, LA, and Washington also put in appearances. So much of the book was written in the middle of the night, and so many poems are set roughly in “wolf’s hour” dimensions, that the night itself, its vicissitudes, has to be a major motif. Sex I’ve discussed as involving, to use pop culture as a reference point, a James Bond/Marlon Brando protagonist, who is very successful sexually with women but also frequently heartbroken and therefore emotionally vulnerable. Under the aegis of “the art,” I include the meta-poems, character monologues, and the poems which address philosophy and academia. So, that’s how, when you configure the four motifs together, I allow myself to call Apparition Poems an American epic, and an epic in fragments. No book is all-inconclusive, where human realities are concerned; but Apparition Poems takes a vested interest in covering as much narrative-thematic ground as possible. Divining also, for an Apparition Poem which brings all motifs, the entire motif square together, I stumbled upon 1341:

Secrets whispered behind us
have a cheapness to bind us
to liquors, but may blind us
to possibilities of what deep
secrets are lost in pursuit of
an ultimate drunkenness that
reflects off surfaces like dead
fishes at the bottom of filthy
rivers— what goes up most is
just the imperviousness gained
by walking down streets, tipsy,
which I did as I said this to her,
over the Schuylkill, two fishes.

The first eight lines could be oracular, or just drunken babble— I prefer to think of them as a little bit of both. Intimations and insinuations of gossip soon give way to intimations and insinuations of murder, corpses, carnage— death, in fact, hovers over the poem and its two protagonists, as does the night and the city. The Schuylkill is filthy; and, as the protagonists cross the Walnut Street Bridge, drunk, perhaps in the middle of the night, they have to make peace both with their own mortality and with what, both inside their minds and outside their minds, is filthy beyond repair. As to whether this semi-Brando stand-in is as impervious as he thinks— the thoughts of death, of “ultimate drunkenness,” suggest that he is not. What sex is there is not revealed; and if the connection to art has to do with the end-rhymes and other poetic devices which configure the formal structure of the poem, it roots 1341 in a history which reaches back from Philadelphia to London and Paris. I read 1341, and how it ends, as a fragment or apparition documenting the pleasures both of intoxication and of psychic dissolutions into larger realities, both inside and outside the mind. It is also worth noting that the eight lines of “drunken babble” may be answering one of his companion’s questions, maybe about gossip, maybe about death, or about both— she may bother to ask him if he has any secrets, if he is hiding anything important from her, or if there is anything sinister in his past. Does his answer suggest he’s a bullshit artist? Maybe.