Poetry April 2011

Verisimilitude

Very similar, very simile—
a smile, a gesture, a mark on the air
to wave hello, goodbye, to throw a kiss
across the rainbow distances. “The word love,”
writes syphilitic Paul Gauguin, in his journal in Tahiti,
“I’d like to kick whoever invented it in the teeth.”
Gauguin the realist in paradise, painting
cinnamon women in native floral outlines
in real two-dimension, beautiful flat faces.
Then the counterargument: Plato’s homely metaphor
of how, in our first life, we were whole,
male and female, but cut in half
by gods no less fearful than Gauguin,
the way we cut eggs in half with a hair,
the eggs hard-boiled, the hair the thread of a tailor.
When is a thing not like another thing,
like the split sweet heart of an apple?
We’re so filled with absence,
or as Yeats, after Porphyry, puts it,
the “honey of generation,” no wonder we stand
in the street at night, half or wholly drunk, shouting.

Stanley Plumly’s recent books include the collection Old Heart (2007) and Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (2008). He currently serves as the poet laureate of Maryland.
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Stanley Plumly’s most recent collection is Orphan Hours (2012). He teaches at the University of Maryland.

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