The Hermit Poet

December 19, 2006

What I Know About Abstraction

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:53 am

Due to some weird type-setting and my overly long lines in the version that was sent to them, I’m offering this updated version of the poem (shorter lines) which appears in the latest Portland Review — this version at least should be readable.

What I Know About Abstraction

The Moon is made of hammered tin. And tonight, Sorrow
must be the bone gray sparrow I found lying in the fields
east of the freeway: one wing broken, one eye the color
of rusted steel. And by it, eager for flight, a white paper cup
wrestling with the evening wind.

Down at the water’s edge, I know nothing of the two men rowing.
All night they skirt the shore, the bridge, the abandoned docks.
The same shadows returning till I think they are twins
in their dark raincoats, their eyes a blur. One pulls an antique bottle
from his sleeve, which might be Hope,

and throws it as far as he can into the deep, then lies back
and sighs, as if to say There is nothing more that can be offered
to the world tonight.
Will it float? Will it sink? Who knows?
Tomorrow, I might see it grace the gravel beach, shattered
by the waves, or whole. Something inevitably returns with the tide.

Something like the cup now flying in the wind, a white glow
in the dark which could be Truth or any star before it fades
behind clouds or is lost beyond the stand of sycamores where Love
is no doubt digging ditches row after row, building a cemetery
at the edge of the world.

I am certain of this, leaning against the rail on the hill
that oversees this town, where Memory might be last year’s bicycle
painted red, the tires losing air with each turn. And the girl
on the corner in the borrowed dress is Sleep, the one
the last drunk will carry home in his arms before dawn.

First published in Portland Review, Winter 2006.

4 Responses to “What I Know About Abstraction”

  1. Oliver Says:

    Lovely! Mere and I may head over to Vancouver soon. I’ll let you know when.

  2. daniela elza Says:

    neil, this poem is a double edged sword, beautifully arguing against abstraction and wonderfully grounding it at the same time. cuts through you either way.
    thanks, and happy holidays

  3. Lo Says:

    This is beautiful. I’m not a free verse fan as a rule, but there are exceptions to every rule and I’m making this one of them. Thank you for posting this.

  4. C. E. Chaffin Says:

    Well done. Rob Mackenzie recommended this poem to me. When a poem looks easy, it is not. Skill renders it so, as you have done here.

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