Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pliny I & II by Dan Chiasson

I stepped on a bird this morning. It had fallen between
     two parked cars. My boot-heel made it make a quiet,

sobbing noise, not at all like birdsong. It was
     brittle and soft at once, like matchsticks inside

chewing gum. As a child in Rome, I dreamed someday
     I would be Emerson's "transparent eyeball." I tried

different ways to disappear: I wore a football helmet
     everywhere. What I found out was: you can't

be a transparent eyeball in a football helmet.
     I feel better in the dark. I compare the dark

to chocolate: some rich, naughty substance covering
     my body. That would be invisible — to be dipped in chocolate.

That's no football helmet. What if pain turned
     the bird inside out, what if its own scale were volcanic?

You've got to get yourself dirty to imagine it.
     You've got to get down on all fours and bark.

I became a tiny eye to see into the eye of a sparrow,
     a cricket's eye, a baby's eye; when I looked

at the night sky I made my eye as big as history, for
     the night sky is a kaleidescope of past-times,

as noted astronomer Carl Sagan said. I watched TV and
     made my eye a TV: lidless, rash gazer at whatever happens,

casting shadows of what happens for the neighbors,
     whose eyes are the size of windows, my windows, and sharpen

their sight to voluptuous desire, voyeur voyeur
     pants on fire. Anything half-seen becomes what's on,

becomes the neighbors' newscast, lotto drawing, rerun.
     How do you know a child had died, except by watching

trays of casseroles brought in, the old sit down,
     peoples' bodies doing as bodies will against the wall?

This poem is currently up at Poetry Daily (see links--a new poem every day!) The poet is one of my favorite young poets currently writing, especially because he was MY TA in my first poetry class in college. What I really like about this poem is the way that Chiasson combines a very clear, conversational, inviting tone with constantly inventive, interesting imagery and story-telling. Pliny the Elder and Younger were, I believe, a father-son team of Roman scientists/writers. One of them, I think the Younger, was killed when Mount Etna errupted. If anyone knows better, feel free to correct this in comments!


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