Poem of the Week | December 07, 2015

This week we feature a new poem by Martin Rock. Rock is the author of Residuum (selected for the 2015 CSU Poetry Center’s First Book Prize) and the chapbook Dear Mark (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013). With Kevin Prufer and Martha Collins, he co-edited the Unsung Masters volume Catherine Breese Davis: On the Life and Work of an American Master (Pleiades, 2015). His work has appeared in journals such as AGNI, Black Warrior Review, Conduit, DIAGRAM, Best New Poets 2012, Brooklyn Poets, and Verse Daily. He is Managing Editor of Gulf Coast and publisher of Loaded Bicycle. The recipient of fellowships from New York University, InPrint Houston, and The Port-Townsend Writers’ Conference, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Houston.
 
Author’s note:

In 2004 I moved to Japan for what I thought would be a year and ended up living there until 2008. It wasn’t until I returned that I discovered the work of the poet Shuntaro Tanikawa: specifically his second book, 62 Sonnets, in which, with lines like, “Blue sky lies. / While we sleep night whispers the truth,” he establishes an extraordinary relationship of distrust toward daylight and identifies “blue sky” (accurately, I think) as an obfuscating wall of light which prevents us a view of the candor of infinite space. And yet, as in this poem’s opening, the sky has long been our only connection to all that lies beyond it. The sky acts concurrently as conduit and cloaking device, as filament and barricade.
 
Tanikawa’s ability to link poetry with astronomy also helped me see poems as moments of entanglement, as peepholes through which we might catch a glimpse of an alternate universe as it presses against our own, either through time or distance. In another of his 62 Sonnets, Tanikawa writes, “Clouds collect / the sky’s overflowing light. / Wind whispers in my ear / and suddenly a great emptiness awakens.” He begins with the detachment and deep awareness of the scientist but undercuts it with an assertion of subjectivity; the “great emptiness” is both known and unknowable, a collision between the intimacy of self and the unfathomable vacuity of space. The blue sky seems to be for Tanikawa what the wind is to Ammons—a simultaneously cradling and terrifying companion. And while we’re on the subject of entanglement, it is interesting to note that Ammons’s first book Ommateum (self-published in 1955) was likely being written at the same time as 62 Sonnets (published in 1953), though on the opposite side of the earth. As a final note on my own poem, the slippage at the end, in which the last word acts as both verb and noun, is an attempt to enact complexity, the sharing/splitting of worlds through language. It is also an attempt to undercut a particular kind of certainty: conviction that leads to (both intentional and unintentional) violence.

 

After Tanikawa

 

Let the sky tonight equal a filament
stretched from inside your head
to the half-moon, no larger
than a thumbnail, no closer than a god.

 

Let the contents of your mind
regain the limitless proportions they held
the day you slipped from your mother
into this diminutive physical sphere.

 

Tomorrow the sky will again be a barricade.
Children old enough to look beyond the trees
will see nothing but a solid blue mass.

 

Let the moon tonight be the first stepping-stone
across an infinitely black river.
Let down your guard, friend, and cross.

 

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