As I've told my wife too many times, the meaning of any poem
hides in the marriage of cadence and sound. Vowels on a carousel, consonants on
a calliope, whistles and bells, we need them all if a poem is to tickle our
ears. Otherwise, the lines are gristle and fat, no meat.
Is it any wonder, then, my wife has had a problem, for decades
now, with any poem I've given her to read for a second opinion. This is
especially true when we both know the poem has no message and I simply want to
hear the music, assuming there is some. Miles Davis made a living doing the
same thing in jazz clubs. Why can't I have a little fun and give it a try even
if my instrument is words?
The other night in bed I gave my wife my latest poem to read. I
said it was fetal, not final. Afterward she said that reading this poem was no
different than reading all the others I had given her over the years. She had
thought I'd improve by now. Maybe I should switch to fiction or the essay, she
suggested, or else stick with editing the manuscripts of others since I had
made a decent living as an editor for many years.
"You've been writing poetry for decades," she said, "but reading
a poem like this is like looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to a
Point well taken, I thought, point well said. The nuns for whom
I toiled all those years in grammar school would have liked my wife. They might
have even recruited her to join their order.
Then I asked her what a man should do if he has careened for
years through the caves of his mind spelunking for the right line for a poem
only to hear his wife say that reading his poem was like "looking through
kaleidoscope while listening to a harpsichord."
Should I quit writing? Start drinking? After all I quit drinking
when I started writing and I discovered that the hangovers from both were
The following morning she said, "You should never quit writing."
At that moment, she was enthroned at the kitchen table, as regal
as ever in her fluttery gown and buttering her English muffin with long,
languorous strokes Van Gogh would envy.
"You should write even more, she said, all day and
all night, if need be. After all, my line about the 'kaleidoscope and
harpsichord' needs a poem of its own. It's all meat, no gristle, no fat."