When the dishwasher breaks, I tear a few vines from the side of the house and re-read Mary Ruefle's "Short Lecture on the Brain" (collected in Madness, Rack, and Honey).
There is no connection between the act of tearing and the act of reading except chronology, which is both the most artificial and actual connection that can exist.
Let me begin by adding that I am neither a practical nor a “well-rounded” person. The kindest thing that can be said of me has not changed since my second grade teacher told my parents: “Alina is creative and she may have potential.”
Let me unbegin by subtracting the things people say from the fascination that leads me to poetry. See, I don’t just appreciate the sunset—I marvel at the way it burns down the day, curdling cloud-breaths into colors of exhaust.
I don’t just admire the moon—I have a relationship with the moon that outlasts all the mammals I’ve laid in her pale light.
I don’t just worry about melting glaciers—I hear them cracking, groaning, shifting before finally giving up on sleep and running upstairs to google “glacier noises”, “density of Arctic ice”, “cold-hearted human snakes”.
To quote from Mary Ruefle's "Short Lecture on the Brain”:
"I don't think there is anything balanced about artistic creation at all, I think it's a lopsided way of being, an obsessive and off-balance way of perceiving and being in the world; I mean most people when they see a baby fox playing with butterflies don't have to write a poem about it, especially a poem where the baby fox winds up dead on the side of the road with butterflies gamboling around its splayed intestines."
The un-cuteness of a dead fox does not prevent it from holding the poetic imagination.
What could be more asymmetric than a carcass on the side of the road? What is less orderly and well-arranged than wild animal death?
I think about symmetry whenever I see an American teen with a mouthful of metal or the billboard that promises to “even out lopsided breasts.” I think symmetry makes it easier to know where you are going in a shopping mall, or what to expect in an operating room. And heaven forbid a day go by that we aren’t reminded of the relationship between perfect symmetry and beauty.
What is poem-worthy about perfection?
Perfection is like unconditional love in that it is static, unchanging, unaltered by events. I’m not interested in unconditional love.
A poem about perfection would have to focus on subverting the perfection in order to be interesting.
Maybe the difference between advertisement and poem parallels the difference between the promise of perfection vs. interesting asymmetry.
Poets break promises. We spend hours chasing a shadow around the room just to watch it break our hearts up close. Then, between terrors, we force ourselves to bring that shadow to the page so others can see how it feels to be haunted by the way a patch of darkness moves across the hardwood.
Fascination is more interesting than beauty. I believe this as surely as I believe a gap between front teeth is the most disarming dental position in the world.
Fascination asks more from us than a relationship of admiration, which is, at best, a spectating relationship that affirms a platitude.
Give me the hooked nose, the chipped tooth, the Mona Lisa smile anyway. Give me a style icon that destabilizes the platform with her natural, unremarkable breasts.
Asymmetry is where poetry wanders... into the lopsided, the near-miss, the mysterious tenors of imbalance.
I'm thinking of complex, numinous way in Kayleb Rae Candrilli ends "You've Heard This Before, The Only Way Out Is Through" (American Poetry Review):
there is a razor in the apple
and the apple is the earth. Listen,
my nightmares are dreams in which
everyone walks in the same direction--
that rhythmic lockstep. Both of my
grandmothers considered abortion.
And can you imagine?
Being so close to nothing?
I’m thinking splayed intestines can be used to make ice cream.
I don’t know if someone has made ice cream from roadkill.
I don’t know what part of this has actually happened but I know everything is happening now and I want to taste it.