I somehow missed reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose in the years when it was so wildly popular, but I’m reading it now and enjoying the hell out of it (to put it eschatologically). Here are a couple of brief passages from the book that found their way into my notebook this week:
In those dark times a wise man had to believe things that were in contradiction among themselves.
As an ancient proverb says, three fingers hold the pen, but the whole body works. And aches.
Those were the scant pickin’s this week. So I thought I’d share a poem (a prose poem, that is)—unlike the others put forward in my Friday Notebooks, this one was published many years ago. I won’t name the magazine, for reasons that will quickly become clear.
I’d been inspired by reading about the Ern Malley affair that so shook up the Australian poetry scene back in the mid-1940s, and set out to write a poem in the mode that was beginning to swamp many an American lit magazine in mid-1980s: a mode that consisted of little but suggestion, as if the poet had produced it during a séance; the point was to concoct an utterance that could mean almost anything, thereby hinting at tantalizing profundities the reader could never access. There was—and is, I should say, for this has become the dominant mode in American poetry—nothing at all behind the scrim of ectoplasmic language.
I wrote several of these hoax poems*, but was surprised when one from the first group I sent out was accepted for publication; I said yes with a feeling of glee, but when the magazine arrive in the mail, I felt ashamed. I’d discovered as a child that I had no taste for practical jokes, and now I discovered I had no taste for this kind of fakery either. Or maybe it’s just the realization that my talents are so poor that I can’t afford to intentionally insult the Muse.
Tears in the hourglass, their salty gleam. The silver hairline squeezed upward in the spine: fever molding a deck shoe around the slipping tongue. Spray upon skin, drying: tight; eyeblink: sun on harsh water, hot on the shore. Rumpled sand shadowless. Wind fitful along the cliff. Squinting out under the hand, its sandy creases, whorls. Glint of a distant sail. Hearing blood sift in the heart: salty, dark; salty dark: disease and fever. And its ease. Remember.
* I just realized that I wrote this poem about the same time that The Name of the Rose, the film version of Eco’s novel, which starred Sean Connery, was playing in theaters. I need to kill and dismantle a chicken to read what the meaning of this might be….