Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1649) It was not death, for I stood up
It was not death, for I stood up, And all the dead lie down; It was not night, for all the bells Put out their tongues, for noon. It was not frost, for on my flesh I felt siroccos crawl, - Nor fire, for just my marble feet Could keep a chancel cool. And yet it tasted like them all; The figures I have seen Set orderly, for burial, Reminded me of mine, As if my life were shaven And fitted to a frame, And could not breathe without a key; And 'twas like midnight, some, When everything that ticked has stopped, And space stares, all around, Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns Repeal the beating ground. But most like chaos - stopless, cool, - Without a chance or spar, Or even a report of land To justify despair.
There are some poems you cannot escape. Poems that are like locked, bare rooms filled with a light so cold it can only be the truth. Poems that capture not only the horror of desolation, but also its stark, simple beauty. This is one of those poems. This is a poem that grabs you by the throat right at the start (can you imagine an opening more immediate, more engaging that "It was not death for I stood up / And all the dead lie down?") and gradually increases in pressure until it finally lets you go, gasping for breath, only at the very end. This is a poem that combines some of the sharpest, most suffocating lines in the language ("As if my life were shaven / And fitted to a frame") with a sense of quiet acceptance that both informs the first two stanzas and radiates through those hearbreaking last lines. This is a poem that is at once a mosaic of images and a single, singing voice. It is also, of course, vintage Dickinson. The short, haiku-like lines are back, with their awkward rhymes that somehow manage to sound exactly right. There's the usual sense of precision, the feeling that every word has been carefully selected and carries within it a great weight of meaning. And there's that deeply personal tone which makes what would otherwise be an exceedingly cruel poem, a moving and sad one. Aseem.