Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"This heat still underfoot"

Posting by Leon Wing

Poem by Simon Perchik 

This heat still underfoot
reminds you how the sun
would come to your grave's edge

with flowers, with a sky
whose season now is lost
and the listening

that goes on forever.
You can tell from the silence
I'm standing close, my footmarks

stopped—for a while we are both dead.
Who but you would think about daylight
how colors tire so easily here

biding their time, listening
to one foot beside the other
never letting go and the warmth.

taken from Poetry Kanto No. 23, 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Kanto Poetry Center. Yokohama, Japan.
All rights reserved.


Recently the world of poetry has seen the passing of quite a number of poets: Harold Pinter, Adrian Mitchell, Pulitzer winner Hayden Carruth, Australian Dorothy Porter, at a not so old age of just 54; including those writing in languages other than English, like Pakistani  Ahmed Faraz and Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish

The most recent deaths are WD Snodgrass and Mick Imlah, just this month.

The poet of this poem, Simon Perchik, is still with us. But he is very old, born in 1923, in New Jersey, the US. He used to work as an attorney, before retiring in 1980. He has published more than 20 books already. His poetry has appeared in print and online magazines, including The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Poetry magazine, The Nation, North American Review, Beloit, and CLUTCH; and

Perchik writes the first line as though the departed in question is not dead at all, if warmth, or heat, in this case, is any indication. We find out that “this heat” is not from a warm (and living) body. It is from the sun, the celestial source of warmth and energy blanketing every manner of being, living or dead.

In line two of stanza one, this heat is not putting the poet in mind of the sun, but “you”, the one buried (“underfoot”), that he is visiting. The poet hasn’t brought any flowers, the sun has.

There is a very unusual linguistic construction at the end of stanza two. It runs on towards the start of stanza three. “and the listening/ that goes on forever” is so much a non sequitur, after this buried one is reminded of the heat and flowers, and a season that has passed.

This probably indicates the stasis of listening from someone who is dead. This is underpinned in the next line when the poet stands close to the grave, in a silence so utter that for an instance the visitor could well be dead, too.  And, probably the poet is wishing this, so deep is the grief.

Now, who’s the pessimist here? Not the dead one, who, buried, should not be able to see light anyway but is able to think about light, and about how colours (probably of the flowers from the sun) fade in time.

Though dead and buried this one is listening to silent footfalls or “footmarks”.  The motif of "foot" is all over this poem: underfoot, footmarks, foot.  We are actually seeing the visitor from the point of view of the one whose grave he's visiting - at foot level, or beneath.  From this level or POV this buried one cannot hear the visitor's footfall upon her - we presume it's a her, for convenience's sake - grave.  But she could tell there are "footmarks" above her.

In the last two stanzas, Perchik deliberately omitted commas in three places: at the ends of "daylight", "here" and "other".  This has the effect of turning the end-stopping of those words into run-ons or enjambements.  The only time he uses that punctuation is between "time" and "listening", when he wants the reader to observe a silence in the listening to the shifting of the visitor's foot from one to the other.   Without the comma after "other", now, who is not letting go?

The last three words of the last line parallel the non sequitor we observe earlier with “and the listening/that goes on forever.” ; so that the reader is reminded of this “dead” listening, again. Now we realise the reason for this unsual syntax in both the non sequitors.

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