Ron Padgett Take Two
So I liked Ron Padgett’s How to Be Perfect so much I went looking for his other books (I went through a similar thing with John Koethe after reading Ninety-fifth Street, which I also adore), and have just finished (I had to put the Ashbery aside for a bit, but I’m looking forward to greatly to getting back to it) You Never Know, which came out in 2001.
Here are three more tries (plus one) to make you into a Padgett fan. Three poems that I think trace out the contours of his work (all from You Never Know, Coffee House Press, 2001):
Who is here with me?
My mother and an Indian man.
(I am writing this in the past.)
The Indian man is not a man,
but a wooden statue just outside
the limits of wood. My mother
is made of mother. She touches
the wood with her eyes and the eyes
of the statue turn to hers, that is,
become hers. (I am not dreaming.
I haven’t even been born yet.)
There is a cloud in the sky.
My father is inside the cloud,
asleep. When he wakes up, he
will want coffee and a smoke.
My mother will set fire
to the Indian and from deep inside
her body I will tell her
to start the coffee, for even now
I feel my father’s breathing change.
We skid to a stop at the edge of what we realize is a cliff and our breath goes out over it and falls slowly into the abyss. The abyss is so hungry that it will accept even breath—it sends back a deep, hollow “thank you”—the abyss so empty of everything but sorrow. We put the car in neutral, get out, and shove it over the cliff. This time the abyss burps back its satisfaction. We empty our pockets, take off our clothes, and hurl everything over the edge. But we do not hurl ourselves. We will never do that, because nothing that falls into the abyss ever hits bottom.
As a child
I wanted to have a boat
around a room
filled with money
did, but I didn’t
want to be
stingy or light
a cigar with
a twenty. I
just wanted to
see the coins
and bills fly
as oar and oar
[My daughter Natalie, who just turned eight last month, after I read the above poem to her, said, “This is a cute, and sweet, and weird poem.” I liked that and would hope that Padgett would like it too, though I know nothing about him except his connection to New York. One more, just because why not?]
How to Become a Tree in Sweden
I look up ahead and see
the trees of Sweden waving at me
Gently they wave their bending heads
The light goes dim above the land
And down below the lights come on
And Swedish people one by one
Come out to shop and say hello
as crisply as a Swedish cracker that
fresh out of the package goes snap
And soon the air is full of snaps
And schnapps and weimaraners and
me, my various selves united,
for a moment Swedish, a tree myself,
waving and lost among the others