A poem is a story on open water with a busted keel. It may try to tack, but when the wind blows it skitters sideways. It has to go where it has to go.
John Hoppenthaler read his poem Buffeted at Walking into April last Saturday. Within its lines how many stories swirl and beat against each other like storm surf? Hints of a rocky past; the lovers with their secrets. And in dead center a Gordian knot of a line that’s worth repeating slowly out loud: how much like the book / you said you could read me like this is of me:
Damaged everything and matching dragonfly tattoos – will they take flight, or will they only remind us of blood? Even the atmosphere – faux Tiki bar, clams and tequila – is a character in this story. And the title. Did one word ever have more meanings?
Stoned in the canned jangle of steel
drum tunes in the faux Tiki bar, I sit below
dusty plastic frond and nurse my drink. A few stools
down, too precious for words, a tongue-studded, nose-ringed
lesbian couple, heads bowed close, whisper secrets and softly laugh.
I want their love to last.
I order a plate of clams oreganato
with crusty French bread on the side for dipping
into the buttery broth that strongly hints at salty brine.
Ted slides another frozen margarita down the lacquered
surface of the bar top while come raw, tequilaed-up synapse fires,
and I remember the Paul Simon
song that mentions two fragile ex-lovers
speculating over who’s been damaged the most.
Guess what?: I think of you: how much like the book
you said you could read me like this is of me: to flounder
still in our marred way of being together in the world. I love the dead
dumb clack of emptied shells
as I assemble them into a stylized pile, as if
building an already weathered monument to sailors
the night sea took away and never gave back. Damaged
dreamboat. Damaged land. Damaged ocean. Damaged man.
Damaged woman. Damaged tide. Damaged moon. Damaged pride.
Damaged angel. Damaged wing.
Damaged Jesus. Damaged everything. I don’t think
it will last, though the adorable lovers have not gathered
tightly in each other’s arms and seem, in this heartbeat, defiantly
inextricable, their matching dragonfly tattoos now visible, poised as if
for trans-Atlantic flight on each girls right shoulder blade. I think
of the artist’s needle, how it broke the skin.
(c) John Hoppenthaler, from Anticipate the Coming Reservoir, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2008; reprinted by permission of the author.
Walking into April, Barton College
John Hoppenthaler profile
Four poems by John Hoppenthaler