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The Dark and Turbulent Sea -- Stephen Dobyns

Guest poem sent in by Ravi Mundoli
(Poem #657) The Dark and Turbulent Sea
 Sailboat, sailboat - so Heart counts the ships at sea
 in order to raise his thoughts above matters of flesh.
 Heart is at the beach in his red swimsuit and nearby
 on towels or tossing balls in the air are abundant
 examples of female dazzle. Often Heart is comforted
 by the waves' regulation, the distant line of watery
 horizon, and the air with its mixed aspects of seafood,
 salt and sweat. But here at the beach Heart is no closer
 to the sea's soothing sway and resultant philosophical
 reflection than on a city street. Lolling and frolicking
 nymphs, pink flesh, and half-bared breasts, consume
 his vision and so in desperation Heart counts the ships
 at sea - sailboat, sailboat - in hopes he'll be restored
 to calm. This for Heart enacts life's essential problem-
 the distant vista with its philiosophical paraphernalia
 is disturbingly hidden by the delights of the foreground.
 Why for instance, mull over mortality when a bevy
 of young ladies is engaged in a bosomy bout of volleyball
 just a few feet away. Jiggle, jiggle thinks Heart, it leads
 to trouble. Sad to say, he hasn't thought of Kierkegaard
 all day. Heart is even hesitant to swim or take a nap lest
 he miss some beauty adjust a strap or hitch her halter up.
 as for the dark and violent sea it's just a distraction, easily
 ignored; moral issues, highbrow notions - all forgotten.
 This is in answer to a question asked the next day by a man
 in his car starting through his tempest - streaked windshield
 at the wind pummeled beach: Why's that guy sitting there
 grinning? Heart's having a picnic, even though its storming.
 Raindrops run down his neck. Heart stares at the waves disappearing
 into the fog and feels able at last to see what's there in peace. And
 what's that?:
 What lies ahead and what always has been. All the immutable why's and
 But now Heart's distracted once again. Beneath the sand he has found a
 polka dotted bikini top. What amazing luck! Heart presses it to his lips,
 then folds it neatly in his basket. Is he aware of the wintry weather's
 fierce attack? Guess not.
-- Stephen Dobyns

   Dobyns has published 21 works of fiction; a book of essays on poetry,
   "Best Words, Best Order" (St. Martin's Press, 1996); and ten books of
   poems, most recently "Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides." His most
   recent novels are "Boy in the Water" and "Church of Dead Girls." A
   collection of his short stories, "Eating Naked," is forthcoming from
   Holt this year. Dobyns' poems have won many awards and prizes,
   including the Lamont Poetry Selection, the Poetry Society of America's
   Melville Cane Award and Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts
   fellowships. His novels have been translated into some 15 languages,
   and two of them have been made into films ("Cold Dog Soup" and "Two
   Deaths of Señora Puccini"). Whether working in prose or poetry, he is a
   storyteller of great playfulness, caustic wit and heartfelt tenderness
   -- provocative and deeply curious.

The present poem is from "Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides".

   In "Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides," we see the world through
   the melancholic eyes of Heart -- blood-pumping organ, lover, poet and
   skeptical philosopher of the everyday. Heart reflects on the vagaries
   of love, the cruelties of time and on "how some folks get pearls,
   others pebbles." Dividing two sections of Heart poems is the long
   "Oh, Immobility, Death's Vast Associate," which is a jazzy
   disquisition on human isolation and inaction in the midst of a planet
   full of people brooding over problems of gravity, age and memory.
   Full of Dobyns' characteristic black humor and maniacal imagination,
   the poem also admits moments of irresistible affirmation:

       But the flower, the poem, the sonata, the song:
       all beauty is a form of eager activity. Within
       its delicate body each daisy is a rowdy dance.

   "Pallbearers" has been called "a cycle of medieval morality poems for
   a new Dark Age."

   "Stephen Dobyns is nothing so much as the Dean Swift of contemporary
   American poetry," writes The Washington Post. "Satirist and
   absurdist, unsparing chronicler of the body's runaway appetites and
   the body politic's rampant festerings, a searing moralist camouflaged
   in a manic style and a flair for the macabre." But, as Hayden Carruth
   said, while "his manner is tart, often sardonic,.at heart the poems
   are profoundly humane," struggling as they always are with the
   paradox of the human condition: "How hard to love the world; we must
   love the world."

        -- [broken link]

The book is an excellent one, the poems all seem "relevant" even though
(!!) Dobyns uses such modern day images as fax machines and email to put
his point across. In particular, the separating out of "Heart" as though he
were a separate person, with a separate consciousness from the more
business-like brain seems like a brilliant literary trick. You will have to
read the book to understand what I'm saying :-).

Ravi Mundoli

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