Poet Jim’s Metapoetica

by Brian Roberts

Coughing, poet Jim admits
sucking cigarettes
and cups of coffee are off
limits in poetry:                                                                                    “If I was doing five years ago what you are today,”
he heaves, “it’s gotta be cliche. ”

An apron stops and fills her up
for Jim the fifth time chis hour.
With Sweet ‘n Low and non-dairy creamer
he lifts the cup up to lower lip, sips,
and the jukebox skips to Johnny Cash’s
burning “Ring of Fire.” Ashes
fall to the rim of his dish.

I read him e.e. cummings’s
“from spiraling ecstatically this”:
from spiraling ecstatically this
proud miracle of earth’s most prodigious night                           that Jim calls too treated by poets’ pens,
repeated too much through history by brush on brush
of men assisting chapel ceilings, staining glass
with holy rolling wars (he says it with flying lip corner
and arching eyebrow), and painting plated haloes.

“So what of love,” I explore, “which is no more or less        universal than God-                                                                              Is that off limits too?”                                                                Supping sunny egg yoke up with breakfast toast,
he says no, but don’t compare it to the sun;
that’s the one worst thing that he can think of:
the sun’s so overdone in poetry and in love.

“Ring of Fire” begins to burn again, sizzling grease-
from griddle in the kitchen to spittle on our cup lips-
for the fifth time this sitting;                                                           and Verla, two rabies over, tightens
ten fingers around her sing-along lover’s biceps,
scoots close to him,
and clatters in consonance with the cafe,
“You sound like a sick cowboy, hon. ”
The sun through the window hangs in shafts
in the wafts of bacon smoke from back in the kitchen.

But if I were to write about
Verla and her lover Will watching the sunrise,
and start our with the sun
and how it throws off a ring of fire
like an orange unpeeling clothes to strip
and swim into the sky?

Then talk about how
its rays writhe, f1ipping, f1ailing                                                        like eight arms and legs
pushing a spherical body
to roll off the horizon and into the air.

Compare the sun to female and male
when they were joined,
before their one, round, eight-membered body
had ever been severed in two by the gods.

Contrast this round whole with Verla and Will:                            two hemispheres watching the sun rise on the horizon,
and ask what the reaction might be
if Hephaestus with hammer and tongs
were to visit them and say,
“I am ready to melt and weld you back together,
so that, instead of two, you shall be one flesh;
as long as you live you shall live a common life,
and when you die, you shall die a common death,
and still be one, not two, even in the next world.”
And mention Verla’s reflections on losing her will,
on infinite asexuality, on melting into a sick cowboy.

Poet Jim says I might try it, but footnote it
for sure to refer the reader to Aristophanes’
theory on love, as presented in Plato’s Symposium.
He adds, “Don’t let allusion dominate
the poem; a text can lose tons
by just leaning on another too much. ”

Jim sips the coffee and fumbles for change
for a tip. Stenciled letters on the window
spell out the cafe’s name.
I follow the sun-shafts down from the glass
and note the shadow cast by the O:
an oval of ash burned onto the orange of the lovers’ tabletop.

Brian Roberts, of Knoxville, Tennessee, is a senior English major. He will be entering the English M.A. program here at BYU in fall 2001. He and his fiancee have recently begun driving a big cranberry van. They are looking  for something more sensible, like a Ford Pinto