“Poetry doesn’t get enough mainstream attention these days. It’s a mode of engaging with the world, it feels like magic, it requires nothing of you other than a willing ear. It’s also a mode of engagement that is not argumentative, it’s full of surprise, and it’s full of grace.”
Thus spake Jia Tolentino in her video intro to a reading of Tracy K. Smith’s “Solstice,” taken from Life on Mars, the book I’ve been reading (or perhaps that’s been reading me).
The book itself is a rich nougat, much sweeter and more filling than expected. All manner of poetry is going on here, from free verse to bound forms to boundless imagination in the form of postcard missives between people.
As another example of the variety, I give you an aubade entitled, quite simply, “Aubade.” An old French form, an aubade, gets its own 2-minute podcast on Merriam-Webster. Although it looks like you’d pronounce it with a long “a,” it is, in fact, pronounced “oh-BOD.” Without further ado, here is Tracy’s love song to the morning:
by Tracy K. Smith
You wake with a start from some dream
Asking if I want to walk with you around the block.
You go through the things that need doing
Before Monday. Six emails. A presentation on Manet.
No, I don’t want to put on clothes and shoes
And dark glasses and follow the dog and you
Down Smith Street. It’s eight o’clock. The sun
Is toying with those thick clouds and the trees
Shake their heads in the wind. You exhale,
Wheel your feet to the floor, walk around to my side
And let your back end drop down onto the bed.
You resort to the weather. A high today of 78.
But that’s hours aways. And look at the dog
Still passed out cold, twitching in a dream.
When we stop talking, we hear the soft sounds
He makes in his sleep. Not quite barking. More like
Learning to speak. As if he’s in the middle of a scene
Where he must stand before the great dog god
Trying to account for his life.
Mornings can get rather prosaic, as this aubade attests, making it a much easier form for poets to explore than the ghazals we found leaping around in yesterday’s post. And it feels as if the aubade isn’t done speaking, either, when we see, two poems later, Smith’s continuation of the dog theme. For what goes with mornings more than dogs?
by Tracy K. Smith
Give a man a stick, and he’ll hurl it at the sun
For his dog to race toward as it falls. He’ll relish
The snap in those jagged teeth, the rough breath
Sawing in and out through the craggy mouth, the clink
Of tags approaching as the dog canters back. He’ll stoop
To do it again and again, so your walk through grass
Lasts all morning, the dog tired now in the heat,
The stick now just a wet and gnarled nub that doesn’t sail
So much as drop. And when the dog plops to the grass
Like a misbegotten turd, and even you want nothing
More than a plate of eggs at some sidewalk café, the man–
Who, too, by now has dropped even the idea of fetch—
Will push you against a tree and ease his leg between
Your legs as his industrious tongue whispers
Convincingly into your mouth.
A stronger poem, I think, but every bit as lovely as morning, the best time of day, the most creative time of day, the time of day I need no alarm clock to greet. Speaking of days, maybe we need to discover the Norwegian word for “egg poems.”
Love, dogs, or eggs, may yours be a good one, no matter how much remains of it.