March 3, 2021

A.E. Stallings

LOCKDOWN PUZZLE: HOKUSAI’S GREAT WAVE OFF KANAGAWA

Even the border escapes me.
There are pieces of the sky
I cannot seem to put my finger on. 
The wave about to dash
The boats to pieces, is dashed
To pieces. The pieces are shaped
Like fractals of flying sea-foam.

The outside of the box
Offers what might be pieced together:
The wave lifts, white and Prussian blue,
While the sky lies flat and beige
As the raw cardboard inside the box.
The wave stands taller than a snow-topped mountain,
With three boats slung

Low in the troughs.
Rows of fat white dots
Like white dots of foam
Are the round tops of the heads of fishermen
Who are looking, not overhead at the crest about to crash,
But down into the lurch of the sea
Where they are likely to be drowned

Amidst a hissing mess of foam and wreckage.
The puzzle lies spilled, shipwrecked on the table,
All flotsam and jetsam,
A piece of boat here,
A mountaintop there,
Sky and wave all jumbled, the edge aligned
With the horizon of the tabletop’s

Steep drop.  
It comes over me in waves, 
This failure to put together the big picture.
I had thought the working of it would give me
A feeling of—what—peace?
A fitting way to pass the time, a sense
Of pleasure in the making sense of things?

The table is now no use as a surface;
For months now, it is all puzzle,
The white shapes of water shaped
Like random spindrift, spinning across the beige
Ground of the table, or the cardboard-colored sky,
Fragments of yellow boats, and blotches
That could be sea-foam, snowflakes, or bowed heads.

Maybe nothing finally locks
The surface into an illusion of its smoothness.
Even if I rhyme each shape with its absence,
Even if I finish this wave, 
Its monstrous gesture,
After, would not my giant hand be another
Crumbling the world about to crumble,

Sweeping the confusion back into its box?

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020

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A.E. Stallings (from the conversation in this issue): “A lot of the poets that I really admired, T.S. Eliot, A.E. Housman, were themselves classics scholars, so I think I felt—and this is ancient times; this is 20th century—that this was how you became a poet: you studied classics. It wasn’t as clear then as it is now that you could do creative writing. There was the Iowa workshop, but programs weren’t as prevalent as they are now, and it seemed like classics was a way somehow to become a writer. Part of my interest in classics is really classical reception, how classics percolates through English poetry, but I’m also interested in it for its own sake, so, again, they’re very interwoven.” (web)

 

A.E. Stallings was the guest on Rattlecast #82! Click here to watch …

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