There’s a tree on my walk from the garage to my office. A spindly, landscape piece beneath an old-fashioned streetlamp. I noticed her, really, for the first time (three years I’ve made this walk) in her nakedness, all the more stripped and stark and skeletal for the maybe-dozen leaves left clinging to her, some of them tilted up, reaching instead of falling. I stopped. I took a picture. I watched her, a fixed point on the horizon, each morning as I walked to work. The maybe-dozen dwindled from Thanksgiving break until the day before my birthday when, suddenly—why was I surprised?—she was finally, truly, bare. Without even the lone, final leaf on the tip of the highest-reaching branch, the leaf closest to the lamp, the leaf tricked the longest by artificial light to hang on past her time. Stubborn? Bold? A dreamer? A fool? But why moralize a leaf? She was beautiful. When she hung on. When she fell. In the most fundamental, living sense. She and her sisters and her mother insisted I live this season, the unfolding change around us. With them, I remembered. I clung. I dreamed. I let go. I turned another year.

One thought on “35

  1. Beautiful. I believe the difference between this or any other prose and “poetry” is that it does not use the lines on the page as tools. It reads like poetry, uses poetic language, is self-contained, etc. If you or someone else put in onto a page and called it a poem or a prose poem, I would welcome it as such, knowing that the prose-like arrangement of lines as intentionally employed for effect. I have argued elsewhere – where? Oh, not me, Bear:
    Anyway, back to that poem. It is a poem. Not just because Benton says so and he was an English teacher. Nor yet because he’s its author. But almost. One of his favorite lines of poetry is in a poem by “My-Friend-the-Poet-Morris-McCorvey”. (Benton loves calling him that whole thing. And always does. Thinks it’s funny.) This is it (the line): a wood it is. He quotes it regularly. With a mysterious lack of context that he imagines to be beguiling. That’s the whole line. I’m not beguiled. Are you? It’s the idea that beguiles. This is it: if the poet sees the thin strip of greenish urban landscaping where he stands as a wood, then… Sigh. “Sees”, right? Did that get you?
    Wait! Holy shit! This just came to me out of nowhere. Italicize sees. And pass the ammunition! That’s the difference: it’s not a wood because the poet says it’s so; it’s because he sees it so. AND! It’s not a poem because he says it is; it’s a poem because he sees it as a poem. I love that! And the first time he reads this, Benton will do a freaking fist pump! Yes!

    A poem is a poem,
    not because the poet says it’s so,
    but because the poet sees it so.

    Is that a poem? Did I just write a poem? I think I just wrote a poem. And… hot damn! It just came to me. Like poets like to say. Sort of like the poem writes itself. Yes!

    But it’s not a poem just because I say so. Benton would refuse to say that the simple arrangement of that sentence at the beginning of this thing is a poem just because he, the author, says so. (Or even – I suspect – because he, the author, sees it that way.) But he repeatedly contradicts himself if he talks about anything long enough. Still – like it or not – that is the way to say it. It’s a poem because the author sees it as a poem. That just came to me while I was writing this! And it’s so perfect, especially for the legendary My-Friend-the-Poet-Morris McCorvey!
    Benton would argue further (and further and further!), (I know this because I have heard him do so on countless occasions) that we can tell it’s a poem because it “purposefully uses the arrangement of words on the page to affect the reader.” He says it exactly that way every time, (Actually, he adds “in lines” sometimes and has lots of trouble stopping with “the reader”. For good reason.) and you would not believe how many times he and I have talked through every single word of that phrase. That was no writes-itself epiphany, believe me.
    So, according to us, the sentence, “If you would become a poet, first you must become a bear,” is not a poem. It’s prose. Even if the author sees it as poetry and fails to notify us. If it is written “from margin to shining margin,” as Benton delights to say, it is prose. Sweeping definitive statements amid a storm of error and wishy-washy ambiguity – especially if they contradict generally accepted notions – Benton’s sweet nectar!
    He loves to say – with well-burnished brazenness – that there are two – and only two – kinds of writing: poetry and prose. He loves to say that the only inviolate, absolutely reliable difference between the two is that poetry “purposefully uses the arrangement blah blah blah…” and prose doesn’t. (Yes, he knows about prose poems. And also acknowledges the difficulty his ironclad distinction meets when a poem is spoken or sung.) “Ah, but if it were written down?,” he loves to say. When you come right down to it, Benton loves to say just about anything. What he loves most is the sound of his own voice. (Just playing.) I have time to listen though. It’s fine with me. He says you can learn from anything. I agree.


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