Next Line, Please

A Three-Way Mirror

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By David Lehman

January 17, 2017


 

What a profusion of excellent entries came in this week. My favorite of all the admirable “what I wanted to be when I grew up” poems is Angela Ball’s

What I Wanted to Be When I Grew Up

A fashion-plate special
A proscenium TV
An affineur of aptness
Never a long rifle
living with coats
A stream of division
Fulcrum of cause
and effect
especially
never a definite assignation
but
A movie with trans-furniture
tap dancing
A gown sweepingly in charge
of a museum
A dream voice
“Look what’s around
you”
A three-way
mirror

 

Angela’s poem is consistently interesting, which isn’t always easy to achieve in a list poem, and the eccentric lining adds to the poem’s effect. “A gown sweepingly in charge / of a museum” is highly visible, but “A three-way / mirror” is transcendent.

I almost went for silver-medalist Courtney Thrash’s

What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up

I wanted to be
the one in the rafters and under the lights,
the one on the court, the one at the heights
of space and nebulae, one who dreams free
and creates with her hands, the one in the movie,
the one who stands at bedsides
and heals,

 

noticed and cherished and
pretty and smart, and
the only thing I didn’t want
to be was me.

 

In the end, I agreed with the view that the poem would have been even stronger if it ended suddenly and abruptly with “and heals”; the second stanza, consisting of four adjectives and a rhetorical gesture, is not as fine as the spectacular opening. 

Honorable mention to Paul Michelsen for his inventive use of 12 one-word lines:

What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up

Able to understand, finally, what was said
On the other side of the phone conversation:

Never
Okay
Tomorrow
Always
Did not
Forgive me
Did too
Indeed
Essential
Tragic
Tragic
Hilarious

 

I would applaud, too, linda marie hilton’s evocation of John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X” (which, she tells us, “hangs in the lobby of the Boston Public Library”):

 

What i wanted to be when i grew up IV

 

I wanted to be elegant so all would say of me:
She most personifies: “Like lady’s skirts across the grass”,
the Isabel Gardner of my age, wipe Sargeant’s “X” right off the stage.
A house in Dover, library’s shelves ceiling high,
a salon of my own where all the arts could convene.
MY own chamber players with which to perform
Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, Piston galore.
A tall handsome husband with pelf enough
to regale kith and kin at least once a month.
On quiet days to practice and study Gustave Reese,
emulate Schnabel,compose music, create beauty.
an fine acre of a garden in which to repose
A fire before which to knit socks and crochet lace
A fine place of my own in which I belong.

 

note : Sargeant’s “X” is the portrait of “Madame X”
which hangs in the lobby of the Boston Public Library.

 

We now have, thanks to Millicent Caliban and Charise Hoge, titles for the three sonnets that we completed at the turn of the year. Here they are:

 

#1

Serial Killer [title: Millicent Caliban]

 

You weren’t serious when you said
you were serial.
When you said you were real.
One thing after another. You misled
me, promising nothing but gradual change.
But you’re static, stochastic, and strange.

 

When you said you were real
I consulted both Bishop Berkeley
and Dr. Johnson—who agreed
you’re genuine manmade material
non-auriferous, impervious, unosculatable,
succubatious, contagious, inflammable,
with your bag of dust dumped perceptibly
on a cordate trash heap of serious hyperbole.

 

Michael C. Rush, Angela Ball, and Stephanie Hanzel

 

 

#2

In the Eyes of Dionysus [title: Millicent Caliban]


You weren’t serious when you said
Brekekexkex koax koax—
You are not Toad, but Man. The facts
will out. The spalt-hops on your head
are faux, yet you pollute the pond
with croaks. Echt-frogs sing fairer songs.

 

Love is greater than the sum of duty and lust
Or at least it used to be when you were real,
Yes, it used to be, back when you could feel,
Not like a frog in the eyes of Dionysus
Looked upon with love not just as an object of sex,
Our pillow talk so much more than Brekekexkex.

To break the spell, this seeming frog I’ll kiss.
As disenchanted prince, might you restore our bliss?

Angela Sorby, Cortney Thrash, Paul Michelsen, Millicent Caliban

 

 

# 3

Love on a Page [title: Charise Hoge]

 

You weren’t serious when you said
leave the Garden, were you?
Let’s talk of second chances, of do-
overs, of our faltering, inbred
clumsiness. Let’s say no one’s fallen, rotten.
Apple of your eye, incognito; we’ve forgotten:
Love’s more vertebrate than lust or duty.
Let’s talk of golden-fingered pangolins,
and foxes borne aloft by flaps of skin,
and cranes ascending over the sooty
ancient Heavenly City in Beijing.
Let’s say love’s not a wholly human thing,

how it lunges and growls and lugs you to bed,
how it wakes you up, demanding to be fed.

 

—Charise Hoge, Angela Sorby, Berwyn Moore

Congratulations all around.

 


For next week, how about a quick meditation—oxymoron intended—on this quotation from G. K. Chesterton: “There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar in impulse than in the man who eats grapenuts on principle.” You may entitle it “Simplicity.”

Deadline: Sunday January 22, midnight any time zone.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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