For the past month I have been trying to work out a review of Michael Klein's The Talking Day. Over the years, Klein has become a poet's poet -- every teacher of mine has pointed me toward his work, beloved but never quite given its due. (In truth, he doesn't seem to have too much trouble publishing his poems, although it is time for a hardcover Selected Poems of Michael Klein.) A complete review of The Talking Day is, I have come to realize, not in the cards -- I could push through, as I have before, but I would be risking inelegance, which is neither in my game-plan nor in my life-plan.
As minor and personal as the age of Internet writing may be, today I am indebted to it -- here, instead of a review, I can share two prose poems from The Talking Day. Characteristically, they evoke that deep-seated, bell-ringing in us that has always made poetry one incurably, almost unbearably, beautiful place to be. Humane, instructive, healing. All of it. I wish I could have managed more than these small sentences, but I trust that not writing or sharing at all would have been even smaller.
"The Talking Day"
Some lunatic with a gun killed some people at an
immigration center in Binghamton, New York. Liz and her
family live up there and David, her husband, teaches in the
middle school which is close to all the action (the way, in any
smallish town, everything is close to all the action). I called
Liz to see if everyone was all right and she was in her car
driving to the elementary school to pick up Lily, her young
daughter she brought back from China a few years ago. Lily
was fine, but Liz wanted to move her outside the question of
how to make sense of the broken pieces of "someone" with a
gun walking into a public space and then firing. There's
something called (I learned from a news report the day of
the shootings at Virginia Tech) The Talking Day which
refers to the day immediately following the day when
something wildly violent happens. No one quite grasps the
reality of the situation and everyone spends that first day
talking about what happened and reliving it as language -
not so much to understand the violence but to make a kind
of recording of it: talking about it, letting go of it, putting it
down. And so I imagine it must be with Liz and Lily and
David in Binghamton, New York today: letting "something"
go. Liz is in her car after having just picked up Lily at school
and driving back home through a town that suddenly makes
no sense and she is telling the story about what happened
when a young man walked into a building with a gun. And
for Lily, who's had a pretty serene, un-violent United States
time so far and whose endless joy has made her an adorable
chatterbox, tomorrow could be her first talking day. Or if
not tomorrow, some other day. We live in a talking day
"Left to ask"
I was struck today by a man and a woman in Yankee baseball
clothing sitting on the shuttle train that runs from East to
West on 42nd Street - the most anonymous of all train rides
because we are in and out of each other's lives in one train
stop. She was probably beautiful, the blond in the Yankee
shirt, but tonight she had obviously been crying and her
makeup was smeared and her hair was a mess from the
crying but I kept thinking that maybe she had been fighting
with her hair because she had to resort to beating herself up
since the person she was mad at wasn't listening to her.
Anyone could see he wasn't listening to her. He (her
husband?) was staring off into the shuttle distance,
awkwardly making eye contact with complete strangers,
moving his head away from her when she wanted a simple
explanation and not engaging with her on any level. And
there she was - dropped from a height, it seemed, down into
that garish loneliness in public that both of them may have
made all the time but for this moment was a hell he had
made for her to live in. All she wanted was an answer to a
simple question which seemed to me when I heard it in her
plaintive half-crying voice one of the hardest questions to
have to ask someone who is supposed to love you: Why
won't you dance with me? How difficult it must have been
to hear a question like that and then have to give a real
answer. How lonely it must be, after the ball game, to go
home to a house where there is no dancing and the only
question left to ask has already been asked.
Michael Klein will be giving a reading with Matthew Dickman on March 14th at the Poet's House. It's a reading to make.