Saturday, June 8, 2013

Accident Report

Dawn Potter

You know how it is:
tires devouring the coiled road,
one hand on the wheel, bending left,
bending right, slick as a seal; one of those
dawns when grains of fog spatter your windshield
like handfuls of sand, when a monstrous owl drifts

from the invisible forest with a rat writhing in his claws;
when a half-grown buck, leaf-drunk, vaults across the sopping
tarmac like a prince under enchantment; and “Whoso list to hunt,
I know where is an hind!” you cry, but silently, of course, because . . .
because you’re ashamed to mouth a greater poet’s borrowed trappings;
you, with no rights in the matter, mere remote control in fog, ambivalent,

wishful, and cold as well; for all the heat’s in words you were afraid to sing
in earshot of these phantoms—Wyatt, Milton—floating in the vinyl shade,
ready to taunt your match-struck quavering flame. You, not man enough
to warble to an empty car; they, so long dead, still young: still flashing
their brash “So help me God, an immortality of fame.” They played
their necessary cards: not only intellect and drudgery and grief,

wordy sleight-of-hand and rage and loving, probing curiosity,
but plain obnoxious gall. A poem, a stiletto in the back.
And you, alone and lonely, in your blundering car,
afraid of some fool prince with the temerity
to leap into your high-beam’s timid dark.
As if that murky light could be his star.

[forthcoming in Same Old Story (CavanKerry Press, 2014)]


CMGadapee said...

I, for one, am awestruck.

This poem resonates and resonates with me...why do we always feel like a faded/fading/obscure candle in the light of perceived greatness?

I think this, again, is a vestige of our Puritanical roots...we are not worthy, we must try, and accept our preordained mundaneness.

Time to shake of the shackles of self-doubt, I think. Reclaim the right to "warble" and, as in Psalm 100, "make a joyful noise."

Mary Hennessey said...

Like the curve, Dawn.

Jenne' R. Andrews said...

Gorgeous; very rich poem, piercing the moment-- you put us there with you, such immediacy-- xxj

Christopher said...

Love it too, Dawn -- indeed I hang in here because I know you'll always turn back to me eventually and, when I'm least expecting it, lift me up by my own flailing boot straps.

That's cryptic but it's true.

Just to say that all artists, not just women in tired cars, are dwarfed by what has become the huge, inimitable diamonds that have emerged from other people's mines. This one was dug up in the 16th century, after all, and it's Beauty's Best, for sure -- but you mustn't forget how much work was put into it after Sir Thomas Wyatt dashed it off on some fly-leaf undoubtedly, imitating some Italian flunky in English despite his Tudor speech impairments, his moral failures, and his cynical charms. (Right up there with Malory, wasn't he?)

I don't know the poem's publishing history, but I bet you "Whoso List to Hunt" got worked on right from the start, probably as much as "Accident Report" even -- "striving," that's what you say lies behind your best poems, Dawn, not natural talent, and I even remember the names of some of the rival women you felt did have the god-given gift, women who cramp you as an artist even more than men!

The writing of it was just the lucky moment of discovery for this diamond, and it was mainly accidental -- like all poems it had to be dug up out of some deserted, back-breaking ground, identified by a stroke of cluck in a slag heap somewhere, then washed and cut (huge work that, essential), yet even then it was still just a silly stone because it hadn't been admired by more than a handful of friends even if some of them were lovers.

Then the passing from hand to hand, casket to casket, love troth to love troth, page to page, mind to mind, and of course through countless copyings, memorizations and reprintings -- until it comes down to you, dear Dawn, a perfect diamond of a beautiful, inimitable poem -- and one that says to you noli me tangere too, as it does to every poet who knows it.

And we're all intimidated by such miracles of time, accretion and good fortune, Dawn -- not that the old poets were necessarily better, even if they were men, just that the accidents of history placed them on an almost super-human pedestal that no poet in the act of creation could ever imagine could be approached by an ordinary person.

And the final irony is that we all have one or two poems that fall into the same category, that we can't imagine how they ever got written and that, if we dwell too much upon them, tie us up in blocks.

And even then there's so much of the success of such a poem that is just down to luck. One of mine is called "He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse" which some of you may know. I wrote it 20 years ago, had it rejected 9 times by some of the best editors in America, only to have it nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It's tiny too, like the Wyatt, yet if I let it, it too will tie me up in blots.


Anonymous said...

The last line of that should have gone: "if you let it, it too will tie you up in blots."

There were 18 years between the creation of the poem in 1992 and its nomination for the Pushcart Prize in 2010. Yet in the three years since then it has grown exponentially -- which was my point in using it as an example. "He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse" was a tiny little thing but has become in time a diamond. And I know very well that its value is, in the end, not all of the author's making.