The Dangerous But Necessary Art of Compression

I still have my George Bilgere book out from yesterday, so why not share another poem? Although wistful, like sentimentality, is quicksand-dangerous for a poet, Bilgere seems to walk the edges with aplomb. What is creativity without risk? Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but we’re not in this to play safe.

This poem, in three swift stanzas, tries to negotiate the mysteries of innocence and aging. The question it poses: Is youth as good as it gets? If you’re an adult, you certainly hope not. You say, “It’s not quite as simple as all that.” And yet… and yet.

Let’s dip our toe in the pool and get wet, shall we?


“The Wading Pool”
by George Bilgere

The toddlers in their tadpole bodies,
with their squirt guns and snorkels,
their beautiful mommies and inflatable whales,
are still too young to understand
that this is as good as it gets.

Soon they must leave the wading pool
and stand all day at the concession stand
with their hormones and snow cones,
their soul patches and tribal tattoos,
pretending not to notice how beautiful they are,

until they simply can’t stand it
and before you know it
they’re lined up on lawn chairs,
dozing in the noonday sun
with their stretch marks and beer bellies,
their Wall Street Journals and SPF 50.


Parallel structure is used throughout, as Bilgere uses concrete “stand-ins” to represent toddlerhood, teen and twenty-something-dom, and, finally, the maturity of our discontent.

The question in poems like this is simple: Is there enough runway for a poem to lift-off and make profounds statements (in this case about conformity and mortality)? It is, after all, the duty of poetry to compress, not just words but ideas. The duty and the challenge, I should say (and there’s the rub).

Which reminds me, I need to rub the bird with a salt and brown sugar brine so it can brood in the fridge for a day. Happy Thanksgiving to all (4.5) of my readers. Wade in bravely!