Original Poem: "The Man in the Poem:  A Suite of 15 Expressions" with Commentaries

Updated on July 23, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Writing poetry became my major composing activity circa 1962, and taking a creative writing class in 1963-64 deepened my growing interest.

Untitled Visual Poem Painting (Works Man 1)

Source

Introduction and Text of "The Man in the Poem: A Suite of 15 Expressions"

This suite of poems appears in my collection titled Turtle Woman & Other Poems. The suite brings together a melange of fellows I've had the good fortune to meet and interact with; in some cases the sad fact is that some of them would qualify my acquaintance as unfortunate, but as the Shakespearean muse dramatizes his misfortune with the "dark lady," I add my penny's worth to the literary drama.

Following the complete text of the 15 expressions, I am appending brief commentaries to shed a bit of light on each poem, and as the case may be likely further the obfuscatory, postmodernist rant that must needs have been born in these particular times at these particular loci.

The Man in the Poem: A Suite of 15 Expressions

1. The Man in the Poem

(Old Hickory Review, Spring/Summer1992)

The man in the poem practices his art
Balancing on the edge of hell.
He muses with a bottle of flaming angels
Who rouse and persuade him to plant
His words in the soil of eternity.

His imagination is a balloon
That carries him over the jagged mountains
Of love, hate, and piety.
His heart is a mother carrying an infant
And a prayer.
His mind is a father sobered by the wisdom
Of a child's despair.

His voice plays the air.
He makes her wish she
Were in the poem with him.
He makes her love and fear him.

He paints mountains, parts tears,
Sketches stars. He burns and freezes,
Trembles and stands stone still
On the rim of torment.

The man in the poem is chained
But freer than the idea of freedom.

She has seen him walking
With a letter in his hand.
She wrote that letter to the man in the poem.
If he answers, she will know
She has touched a god.

2. The Man in the Poem

(The Bellingham Review, Fall 1995)

The man in the poem
Wears his life like a belt.

He trusts poets to tell him truths
That only saints and prophets know.

He worships indecision
And martyrdom and God's nicknames.

What he knows he has dived deep for
Though he sometimes confuses the two blues.

He guesses his brain is not
As wide as the sky.

But he suspects his mind has scuttled
Along the floor of many an ocean,

And after a few drinks, his syllables
Heft greater than any god he knows.

3. The Man in the Poem

When she first wrote him here
She knew he wasn’t just a figment
Of a warped imagination.
She knew he was the kind to stick with,
To hold a mirror up to life with,
To bat round words with,
To usher in a great movement with.

She knew that he meant every claim he made
And would defend his soft underbelly
With the steel-plate in his brain.
She knew he would always seek higher ground
Upon which to build his foundations;
To him the salt mines were not just a metaphor.

She knew he would never guess, however, that
All she had to do is dream,
And write poems full of sweet, little lies.

4. The Man in the Poem

You might have caught a falling star
to light your cigarette
and Jude would have gloried,

but she felt a simple admiration
that translates love into a thousand languages
and in a thousand poems she could not begin
to draw the lines tight enough to hold you.

You might have raised Cain
and cried over Abel
and Moses would have parted the water for you alone,

but she has lost that school girl crush
that she seemed to lose with lost saints
for she has left to seek the wisdom that drives hearts
to see no wicked and hear no evil

and think no such thoughts.

5. The Man in the Poem

Will they ever guess how many poems he plays in?
She doesn’t even know, for sure.

Turtle Woman accosted him with her question,
but he had no answer, so she withdrew her
head and legs and dropped out of his race.

Maya Shedd avoids him; she seeks mystical lovers
and he grovels in primal mud up to his eyebrows.

A professor needs him more than she does, more than
Turtle Woman does, but this particular professor
is not willing to be promoted, so don't look for
workshop uniformity to organize his fate.

How many fingers must they have
to trace his footsteps in her lines?
How many ears to catch echoes of his voice?
How many noses to smell the faint scent of a man?

He strides through her pages
and on the rare occasions
when he steps outside the poem,
he is in danger of being picked up by prose.

Don't worry,
as long as she dedicates her pen to the poem
he will have a place to play.

6. The Man in the Poem

You were a shot
& dangled off a long pier;
somewhere over IOWA you lost
a barrel of tobacco
& SOUTH CAROLINA grieved for you

You gobbled a frog
& spit out his tufts
but your mother never forgave you
for muddying up her 2 X 4s

Down by the creek close to that rock shack
you felt like King Tutank
with your mummy shroud down

But that worm won't fly
& you backed out of hell
ran on a dime
& sucked grapes
out the end of a steeplejack

--if you wanted clear roses to grow off cowed lilies
--if you longed for cold biscuits and ice butter
--if you scorched the earth with your elbows
--if you left a trail of butts with lipstick

Some screedless owl will forgive you
& you will spread gravy over your pages yet.

7. The Man in the Poem

(The Bellingham Review, Fall 1995)

owed to Ron Smits' "Wolf Creek"

My friend, Ron Smits
In Memoriam
December 22, 1943 - Sept. 26, 2012

He walked the creek bank
Musing at the ice-clogged shallows—
Confusing the stream
With a great she-wolf
In her birthing.
He saw her
Clear as ice
Expelling wonder
Compelling him to think she must
Have performed these miracles
For him alone,
Like a wife who pushes
Against mighty muscles
Until she bleeds forth a child.

He would ask nothing more
Than to walk this creek in moonlight
Beside his beloved who
Combs her hair with thistle, offers
Crumbs to birds through the open window,
Humming a tune to the cold night air,
Drumming his heart with her willingness
To die night after night in his arms.

8. The Man in the Poem

He has left her with no words
To praise him
And no inclination to.

He used to seize her
By the scruff
And drag her into the words
Down by the creek
Where summer bit the moon.

She lost her glasses
And went without them for three years
And when she finally got some more
She didn't see him anywhere.
Her neck had grown a blue scar.

She shook him out of her poems
And he fell in purple flakes
All over her bed—

You think she should hate him,
But how his eyes used to catch her
When she'd stumble up Blueberry Hill
And just knowing he wanted her tongue
Set gold afire in both eardrums.

She could not sing without him
Even if the telephone poles
Strung guitar strings
And the moon chased a dog around a fiddle.

9. The Man in the Poem

Once he unloads his gun
He will sit by the fire awhile
Offering shells to Agni.

He cracks them with his bare hands
Picks out the nut meats
As tenderly as a woman
He used to know in his hometown.

But she hated his bad language
And so he started writing poems
To kill her and he killed her
So many times that he earned
His seat in hell's kitchen

Peeling potatoes and deep frying them.
He kills his poems now and eats them
As a side dish beside the fried potatoes.

The woman eats boiled rice
And still picks out the nut meats
Tenderly , O so tenderly.

And when she writes her poems
She thanks the man in the poem
For showing her where to hide
Her belly and where to let
Just a little bit of leg show.

10. The Man in the Poem

She used to call him Snowbird
but he stings like the scorpion,
he does not sing like the bird.
His claim that he desired
to take part in the Sundance
was a ruse to confuse her.

He admired Achilles
and reckoned he knew the Greeks
better then they knew themselves,
but he does not know that poems begin
by bodies of waters.

If he could listen to the river,
He would hear the ancient water in poems—
ancient wisdom comes
spilling down from mountains, comes
pouring down into the plains, comes
with the sun and the legs to dance to it.

11. The Man in the Poem

He cut that heart
as if it were a piece of cloth.
Red drops of dye dripped down
& ran down through the legs
& on down through the toes—
red running over the grass, oozing through the fence
rising like mud-river in floodstage
spreading goo over the cornfields.

The hovering birds
take each eye
for a painted grape.
They're not concerned
that she is only the portrait of a worm;
they want to take her home to babies
whose mouths open up to the sky,
whose sharp little beaks attack her
from the comfort of their nests.

Tie up that heart with string.
Stop the red dye from pulsating
out of that breast, out of that brain:
She’s lost gallons of sweet love
& all the pointed thoughts
that might have stitched up that slashed heart—
no etherized mask, let her faint
& hallucinate him & her entwined like emblematic snakes.

If he keeps squeezing those scissors,
the red dye will eventually soak his shoes.

12. The Man in the Poem

Barbed thoughts slash her brain:

his youth embraced her
and tied her anxious arms

his mouth took hers, wired her tongue
and she became a babbling vagrant

his lust played her like a rock guitar
and she vibrated a deflowered lullaby

his sermon drew her soul to his god
and she worshiped with her fork

she licked the boots of his fascism
and struck a luciferin match.

Turning to stone in the rain
is cleaner than writhing in the dirt

like a worm.

13. The Man in the Poem

That night he pulled off along the side of the road
And stared hard at the full face of the moon.
Turning back to her he grinned white fangs.
Tearing the seat with his claws, he swore
He didn't know what got into him, but soon
He knew his dog-days sweat would earn its fame.

He knew how to use his brain, he said.
The poet in his breast would sing louder than her cries.
And he bit off a part of her lip, a syllable, he called it.
In the close night air she begged to know why
The man left him, why he became part
Beast: too many questions stain her mind, he claimed.

Then he sank those fangs into her breast
And the victim in her heart stained his teeth.

14. The Man in the Poem

(Published as "A Bright Charm" in The Trestle Creek Review, 1996)

His squeal was not at all
As pathetic as the barnyard pig
Whose blood jets propelled
That old expression, "bled like a stuck hog"—
He bled beautifully, just the right color
And sticky-sweet texture she expected from him
And his flesh shucked off those bones easy
And clean as pulling his t-shirt right off his back.
His plump rump slid off as easy as his white cotton undies.
His joints unhooked quick as any brassiere she ever shucked.

Standing ankle-deep in guts
She marveled at the cooperation
Of the sum of his parts,
They seemed to want to be put asunder.

Still, she’s truly sorry it had to end that way—
She'd rather his tongue be sliding over hers
Than down the gullet of those buzzards—but oh well,
His cherubic face glowing like the moon
Is a bright charm dangling from her bracelet of old lovers.

15. Man in the Poem

for Mold Man

Never poke a rough beast from the past:
Likely, you will find yourself ambling
Among tombstones in the rain
Through a ramshackle garden
From which you fled
So many years ago.
Out of that moldy drizzle, you emerged.
Into healing waves, you progressed.
From a death-star specter, into the life-breathing spirit,
You returned, grateful that the Unsensed Force
Had directed your return home,
Where poetry could spray forth in joy.
Never poke a rough beast from the past,
Unless you are willing to be singed
By the bile spewing through his forked tongue.
Unleashing his aggressions, he is rabid
To strangle you with his tangled verbiage,
To erase you as he covets your triumphs.
Never poke a rough beast from the past—
The present will secure your future
As you walk in Spirit.

Mold Man

Source

Commentaries

1. The Man in the Poem

This piece appeared in the Old Hickory Review, Spring/Summer1992.

The man in this poem became as jagged as the moon and as fearful as a snake in a mailbox. He was the type of fellow that people either love or hate, and if they are indifferent, they just don't know him. He would like to write good poems and he would if he could. But he lives in clay vase in the same ivory tower that tries so hard to look smart as it spouts out nothing short of inane, insane, and asinine.

2. The Man in the Poem

This piece appeared in The Bellingham Review, Fall 1995.

The man in this poem was kind hearted even as he bad-mouthed hucksters and sharks. He studied hard but an underdeveloped mental machine plagued his grasp of profound concepts. Still he was better than the roosters who feigned to crow in the dark, behind the hen house where the fox laid eggs and danced under the Irish whisky. It will never become known just how jaded the pen can become when filled with green ink.

3. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem is a figment of the imagination of a woman who has been reading too many hours and straining her eyes to impress a phantom. If the woman in this poem is a guilty as the man, then she will probably get to grips with some of the issues at some point in the future. But for now he will continue to baffle her, and he will continue to ignore her, as well he should. Better that they both stay miles and years apart.

4. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem prompts so much allusion the he must be a delusion. Riding high on literary hubris can make a young boy stiffen his resolve never to seek gainful employment. A liberal dose of spirits might claims more lives than all the literature ever penned in the name of lust.

By the way, the name of lust hold no claim on sin and trials and tribulations will spark controversy even in the courtyard as well as the schoolyard. Never mind the stockyard, where all that stench will change once the environment heats up.

5. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem is a despicable prick. As time has moved down the years away from his stench, bilge, and poppycock, the clearer it becomes just how deplorable and evil-hearted this prick was. As a matter of fact, this poem makes him sound way better than he was/is. However, the line, "he grovels in primal mud up to his eyebrows," is dead on target. And as the years go by, she realizes more and more clearly just how disruptive that quality is. Any further poems in which to place this slug will have be hell-holes, pig-pens, or shit-holes—only places he belongs.

6. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem lived in a fog of mirrorless mists. He ate potato chips with a spoon. He was not so bad as some thought, but he was not nearly as good as he thought he was. He was afraid of women so he pretended to be married, and then when he met a little gal he fancied he'd like to marry, he had to get a quick divorce. Lucky for her, she found out his subterfuge and hurried back home to Alabama, a place he'd never go.

7. The Man in the Poem

This piece appeared in The Bellingham Review, Fall 1995.

The man in this poem was a sweet, humane kind of fellow. His politics were messed up, but he thought what he thought with truly good intentions. He died young, but no so young that he did not do some living. Fought in Vietnam, married, had a son, and taught at university truly because he loved to teach. Requiescat In Pace, my friend!

8. The Man in the Poem

This man in this poem left her with no words to praise him and no inclination to because he used to seize her by the scruff and drag her into the words down by the creek where summer bit the moon; she lost her glasses and went without them for three years and when she finally got some more she didn't see him anywhere. her neck had grown a blue scar.

She shook him out of her poems and he fell in purple flakes all over her bed— you think she should hate him, but how his eyes used to catch her when she'd stumble up Blueberry Hill and just knowing he wanted her tongue set gold afire in both eardrums.

She could not sing without him even if the telephone poles strung guitar strings and the moon chased a dog around a fiddle. And then sat down beside the windmill and dozed off for the afternoon.

9. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem unloads his gun and sits by the fire awhile cracking wall-nut shells. He cracks them with his bare hand and then picks out the nut meats like a woman he used to know in his hometown. But she hated his bad language and so he started writing poems to kill her and he killed her so many times that he earned his seat in hell's kitchen.

He is now peeling potatoes and deep frying them. He kills his poems now and eats them as a side dish beside the fried potatoes. The woman eats boiled rice and still picks out the nut meats not quite so tenderly as before. And when she writes her poems she now knows that the man in the poem is showing his own pit of nature, and so she continues to hide herself head to toe.

10. The Man in the Poem

This man in the poem was once known as Snowbird, but he stings like the scorpion, he does not sing like the bird. His claim that he desired to take part in the Sundance was a ruse to confuse her. He admired Achilles and reckoned he knew the Greeks better then they knew themselves, but he does not know that poems begin by bodies of waters.

If he could listen to the river, he would hear the ancient water in poems— ancient wisdom comes spilling down from mountains, comes pouring down into the plains, comes with the sun and the legs to dance to it.

11. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem opened his heart onto a dyed cloth and ran down the pickle barrel. It kept up red running over the grass, oozing through the fence rising like mud-river in floodstage spreading goo over the cornfields. The hovering birds take each eye for a painted grape. They're not concerned that she is only the portrait of a worm; they want to take her home to babies whose mouths open up to the sky, whose sharp little beaks attack her from the comfort of their nests.

He will tie up that heart with string. He will stop the red dye from pulsating out of that breast, out of that brain: she’s lost gallons of sweet love & all the pointed thoughts that might have stitched up that slashed heart— no etherized mask, let her faint & hallucinate him & her entwined like emblematic snakes. If he keeps squeezing those scissors, the red dye will eventually soak his shoes.

12. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem had caused barbed thoughts to slash her brain: his youth embraced her and tied her anxious arms as his mouth looked for hers, then wired her tongue and she became a babbling vagrant to his lust that played her like a rock guitar and she vibrated a deflowered lullaby as his sermon drew her soul to his god and she worshiped with her fork as she licked the boots of his fascism and struck a luciferin match, melting to stone in the rain is cleaner than writhing in the dirt like a worm.

13. The Man in the Poem

The man in this poem behaved like flabby, deflated balloon. He played his fangs like a xylophone. But he dropped his brain into his breast. He grew red and raged like a rocket out of hell, banging his words against his teeth, brandishing his arms like billy clubs, screaming out his plastered phrases like a Robert-Blyesque mannequin on steroids. He died after a major wheezing attack that ruptured his colon at the edge of winter, leaving two brothers, four sisters, a mother, a grandmother, two ex-spouses, and assorted cousins, nieces, and nephews; no one claimed the body.

14. The Man in the Poem

This piece was published as "A Bright Charm" in The Trestle Creek Review, 1996.

The man in this poem flies kites in winter. He steals his bread from noxious folders. No one thought he could walk and tight-rope, and everyone was correct; he could not. But then he did not try. He worked as a carnival clown until he learned to bark. But dogs feared him and stood like a geek trying to attract flies and flutter from the cake frosting that his mother told his sister to color pink and green. He would likely gather roses and then shred them for incense. He would not learn to tell time until someone handed him a clock with the hands of a china doll, but he drank lots of water when he was admonished to keep hydrated.

15. The Man in the Poem

Fashioning poems from earlier mistakes possibly makes up a significant number of the confessional contribution of poems to the American literary world. Creating poetry and drama provides the soul room to try its wings as it sizes up the landing field where light prevails.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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