One of the jobs of poetry is understatement. Hemingway, over in his fiction writings, would call it the “iceberg theory.” You see 10% of the ice, and infer 90% of the Titanic. End of story (and, it so happens, ship).
One good example of this is a poem from George Bilgere’s latest book, Blood Pages, almost but not quite dedicated to me. “The Nod” is a mere 11 lines of simple complication. Bilgere doesn’t give it to you, but you get it. Here’s a look-see at the poem:
by George Bilgere
So Gerald, the mailman, comes up the sidewalk
and gives me this little nod, not unfriendly,
but not exactly friendly, and I of course
am aware that the slaves were sold like cattle
in the public square, and I nod back.
It’s a complicated thing, this nod.
The world’s foremost experts
grow tongue-tied trying to explain,
so I’m not even going to try.
I’m just saying we nodded at each other
and Gerald handed me my mail.
As Naomi once said to “Roger That!”: This ain’t a poem about the mail. But how do you write about race? For people like Kevin Young and Tracy K. Smith, no problem. But from the white perspective, it’s a trickier line to walk. Little things loom large. The lateness of the historic day throws longer shadows. A nod, then, can speak to greater divides.
I would try to explain it, but I’d grow tongue-tied, and as any reader of this blog can tell you, that’s not my natural state. Massachusetts is.
So I leave it with you, and bid you good day. With a nod….