A Hole in One

Flickr/North Charleston
Flickr/North Charleston

The scores are in and it is remarkable how many of us broke par playing word golf this week, traversing the conceptual distance from “fake” to “real,” one letter at a time.

In “To Tell the Tiller From the Tail,” Eric Fretz managed the task in seven lines:

Bukowski said “the moonlight always seemed fake”
through the plastic thatch of my faux-Samoan fale
in California, just before the fall.
But in that time the tales we told were tall.
Now facts have changed, there’s nothing left to tell.
See: two black birds fly above the bright teal
sea, as if a simulacrum of the real.

I applaud the attention-grabbing opening line and the daring use of “simulacrum,” a piece of academic jargon that means fake in one context and is fake in another.

“Apophasis at the End of the Year,” Steve Bellin-Oka’s excellent entry, offers crisp imagery—a woman’s purse, a man’s white shirt, cold hands, and the knockout surprise of “a pregnant woman side-saddle on her camel”:

I half-tried to love this makeshift life: a woman’s fake
pearl earring falls off. She rattles in her purse for the fare,

the bus hiccupping ahead. Carbon monoxide fart
of the tailpipe. Always we are gone and there, “fort”

and “da,” as in Freud’s grandson’s game. To ford
a river, to find good footing, I run my fingers beneath the fold

of your crisp white shirt. You tell me my hands are cold.
In six weeks, we will leave this town. One December story I told

you: a pregnant woman side-saddle on her camel, the toll
of the jostling through sand. Another the stars might tell—

our compulsion to repeat, to wander. To forget the desert’s teal
flowers and hail. This makeshift life, half-pretending it’s real.

A “busted” effort—in this case, the incomplete fulfillment of a form’s rules—may nevertheless yield something valuable. Angela Ball’s “Fake to Real” skips several steps but compensates with the music of rich internal rhyme:

Our radio gardener embraces fake.
“Plastic and fabric add color, though they won’t take
Root.” Our lake floats wooden geese, neck rings painted teal.
Here’s the deal. Cut-rate enticements mock the real.

Beth Dufford’s bravura fluidity is especially evident in the last six or seven lines of her poem:

A Sears catalog evening spent staring at fake
sunsets and Easy-Bake ovens (take
care: do not over-bake)—a tale
of anticipation that will pale
when compared to disappointment, each pole
repelling the other. The sole
impetus to engage in the solo
mental games that get one to “sold”
is rooted in having been told
that the toll
of not having is a tell
of not being: sell
someone desire and seal
their belief that need is real.

Christine Rhein offered the image of a ladder to describe what we are doing in this exercise. Here is her “Act of Betrayal”:

Precise, a painted forgery: fake
love. The portrait (that gazing face)
in a museum-house you pace
around all night. Yes (hell yes), pack
up (your sorrows) the dreamy peck
of still-life fruits. Sun-kissed wine. Peak,
scentless blooms (that laughter peal).
Brushstrokes to your heart, wildly real.

Further notes and speculations:

There is an admirable symmetry in this clever faux-couplet from J. F. Jeff McCullers:

Sake of the fallen was so hard to read,
fake justice fills the desert of the real.

I want also to commend Louis Altman for this brilliant couplet in the underrated manner of Alexander Pope:

How skeptical we are, how hard we think to make
A phony work of art for avarice, just for lucre’s sake.

Louis, I hope you will consider cutting “for avarice” in line two; it’s implicit in “lucre,” and the excision gives us a pentameter line.

I liked the liberty Patricia Smith took when she moved from “raze” to adze” in her poem. Byron praised its opening and closing lines, and it occurred to me that a poem entitled “Christmas” or “Christmas Tree” and consisting of just these two lines can stand on its own:

Observe if you please this fake:
Still astoundingly real.

Like Stephanie Cohen, I was charmed by Josie Cannella’s title, “Not Drake’s Fake Love.” But I do have a radical suggestion for you, Josie. It is based on the observation that your line-endings themselves form the nucleus of a poem and need little else: “By fate / a mate / is male, / no mole; / his moll, / a fragile doll. / Hill or dell, / a share of Hell, / and me to heal.”

Keith Barrett assembled centos conforming to the rules of word golf, and his energy and verve prompted me to construct a minor monument to our efforts. This cento begins with a line from Shari Ayers, ends with a knockout last line from Emily Winakur, and quotes estimable efforts from poets not named above. I contributed some liaison lines, as I like to think of them, and took obvious liberties at the end. The poem reflects my conviction that “fake” was the stronger of the two trigger words, but it may just be that the first word in the sequence is always the privileged one.

Fake Love

It’s probably true that this is fake
love: the portrait (that gazing face).
But if this portrait of the duchess must be fake,
her affection, though disguised, was never fake.
Ellery was unconvinced. “Paneled with a veneer of fake,”
he said, “everything is fake.”

Observe, if you please, this fake
pearl earring fall off. She rattles in her purse for the fare
at the Gare du Nord, at the gate,
and she his moll, and he her mate.
Plus it’s weird that he is male.

This tell-tale heart tells all yet leaves the tale
hidden in the talc. Then James Tate
and a beautiful stripper hold a tête-à-tête
on the fringe of a fête,
and he reads aloud to her from Man’s Fate
by André Malraux, her current French fave.

The train in the coffee shop is fake.
Get me a piece of that cake!
And let us accumulate our rosebuds. To mate
in haste or seek the elusive ideal
is the deal. Phony in free fall becomes real,
waxwing nightlight real.

Next Tuesday, a new prompt comes your way.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

David Lehman, a contributing editor of the Scholar, is a poet, critic, and the general editor of The Best American Poetry annual anthology and author of the book One Hundred Autobiographies. He currently writes our Talking Pictures column.


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