Next Line, Please

Beautiful Land

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By Angela Ball

August 18, 2015


 

 

For our penultimate stanza, I choose Jordan Sanderson’s:

We said things like, “That’s some beautiful land,”
Before we dreamed we were awake. We said,
“Caves are rhetorical questions about lost hands.”
“Descent is the last good word,” we chanted.
Up the road, an ice cream truck played canned
Music. Its shrill sweetness went to our heads.
Ants gravitated to the melting song.
We trailed after them. We could not go wrong.

Its foregrounding of the speech act interestingly parallels stanza four, in which musical terms create poetic music. Whereas Smith’s stanza evokes grandeur, Sanderson’s brings in an ice cream truck’s gaudy tune. His “we” takes sure direction from ants, whose frenetic colonies seem to mimic human war. (On this subject, read E. O. Wilson, the world’s expert on myrmecology.)

Tied for second place are fine stanzas by Patricia Smith and Paul Michelsen. Here is Smith’s:

Our launching pad of shoe-shined shoes propelled
us into another dimension
where individual dream-world sounds meld
into a collective montage vision—
our ethereal vibrations emerged.
This caravan of artistic creation
journeys on. Our plight: the wane to fight,
to “rage against the dying of the light.”

I admire how the stanza’s first line combines humility with ambition, and how each line expresses our intent to band together against inertia. Its ending enlists Dylan Thomas’s great villanelle, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” for our common cause.

Here is Michelsen’s stanza:

Sat on phone books, a stack of almanacs
Drove stolen ice cream trucks, a series of Priuses
From a room half filled with full-time lunatics,
frackedelic company heads obsessed with fine cheeses,
to ballrooms bustling with quantum mechanics—
Did the running man with men who thought they were Jesuses
We dosey doed with CEOs and hokey pokeyed
then turned our backs like Miles as we karaoked.

Michelsen takes a cue from our presiding genius, Lord Byron, in the satirical bent of his stanza, which skewers corporate culture as it travels a dancing route and ends in triumphant jazz and superimposed song. Indeed, who can fail to admire the swashbuckling rhymes of “Priuses” with “cheeses” and “pokeyed” with “karaoked”?

Here is our “canto” as it now stands:

Caravan of Dreams

The trip begins without a sign that’s hung.
The mark may lie within your palm a line
a psychic knew before your time was sung.
She saw the span of dissonance: you pine
to scale a chart, depart where others clung;
refuse the map, forget reviews unkind.
My year of birth your cry of “Something Else!!!!”
A gypsy soul keeps nothing on the shelf.

Refuse the map. Forego the sturdy shoes.
Shrug off the ragged water of the past.
Your antipodal star riffs like the blues.
Step double-time across the bones and vast
landscapes of asphalt and stubble. He woos
you still, and waits, declares he’ll be the last.
His words flutter like ashes in the wind.
For once, run away, free, undisciplined.

The sky was appaloosa, the town paint.
The electric train plucked by, and the sky
Was bone, and the wind fluted through its flank.
We emerged like half-notes from a horn sighed
Onto the slick stave of the riverbank,
Where even in our rapture we were shy.
A song yanked at our mouths like a bit.
Stampeding, we embraced its roan beat.

Accelerato, adagio—our soul
vacillating, forever wondering
what movement or coda might make the whole
emerge as that resolute rendering.
Welcoming transformations—staccato,
legato—all the while probing dreams
dreamed in the depths of our mind and heart,
curious—Are we ending … where to start?

We said things like, “That’s some beautiful land,”
Before we dreamed we were awake. We said,
“Caves are rhetorical questions about lost hands.”
“Descent is the last good word,” we chanted.
Up the road, an ice cream truck played canned
Music. Its shrill sweetness went to our heads.
Ants gravitated to the melting song.
We trailed after them. We could not go wrong.


To inspire our last stanza, let’s consider W. S. Merwin’s 2005 New & Selected Poems. The collection is called Migration because, he told poet Tom Holmes, “each of us is alone” on our journey. Here are the final eight lines of Merwin’s poem, “Passing”:

the telephone it was my father on his
own journey asking me to be surprised
not taking in a word about the house but asking
about changing money about where I could meet him
about trains for the Holy Land and when I drove him
from the station a long way through country he was seeing
for the first time he seemed to be seeing nothing
and I could not see it was the only time

Read the complete poem here.

I am glad for our communal poetic migration, and I very much look forward to reading the entries for the culmination of our “canto.”  We’ll cleave, of course, to Byron’s rules: eight lines of (flexible) iambic pentameter, rhymed abababcc. This week’s deadline is Saturday, August 22, midnight Eastern time.


Angela Ball is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of five poetry collections, including, most recently, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds.

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