Karl Shapiro somewhere talks about visiting Iran as a cultural ambassador sometime in the 1960s, I think, and after reading some poems by William Carlos Williams the gathered scholars came up to him and asked, “Are those things poems?” Of course they were, but of a kind some readers can’t recognize because they’ve been taught that poems exist to be decoded.
MEN’S ROOMYou can’t decode it, can you? It’s Bob Arnold’s moment passed along to us intact, all the necessary critical commentary nestled between parentheses in the middle.
( bless him )
“Men’s Room” is an example of Arnold the minimalist, but he doesn’t restricted himself to brief lyrics. Some of his poems embrace narrative—though again in a very direct way. Take “Uncle,” for example:
I see his face—The public intimacy of the unperceived threat—gorgeous and chilling at once.
it can’t be helped
because he sees every
face who sees his face
and this concerns him
the sexual predator
as he comes into the
restaurant and good-uncle-
like chats with the prettiest
girl at the cash register,
barely 15, willowy and the
reason he is here, her face not
at all developed or trained—
she shows crushing boredom
grimace with genuine sparkle
if given the chance, a breakthrough
which she allows the predator
sensing him as an uncle
and when she drops her eyes
and he lifts his, dripping
over all of her, a split second is
all, I can’t tell you how much the
blade of a shadow makes me cold
Beautiful Days is chock full of moments like these. Moments we all recognize but never think to save and which therefore pass from our lives remarked. Luckily, Bob Arnold is there to remind us that everyday life, though it passes (in part because it passes), is remarkable. Bless him.