Them bones

This entry is part 1 of 42 in the series Antiphony: Paul Zweig


Marooned in motel rooms for five days with a single, well-thumbed book of poetry, I pored over the words of Paul Zweig – his Selected and Last Poems, edited by C. K. Williams, Wesleyan University Press, 1989 – like a shipwrecked survivor hoarding pieces of driftwood. I began thinking about a new experiment in close reading or exegesis wherein I would write poems of my own in response to poems by some of my favorite writers, beginning with Zweig. I have no idea whether I’ll be able to carry through with it or not; even stating the aspiration here violates a personal taboo against articulating an ambition for a writing project before undertaking it. So it’s more than likely that this post will be a one-off. In any case, my intent is not to match Zweig’s effort – a near-impossibility – but simply to respond to it using the most exact and exacting language I can muster.

Here’s the poem C. K. Williams chose as the opener; it originally appeared in the book Against Emptiness. As always, merely typing out the words of another poet enforces a more intimate kind of reading than I am used to…

On Discovering a Thighbone under a Heap of Stones
by Paul Zweig

I’m waiting for the Druid to claim his bone
In the woodshed. I have dusted and cleaned it,
But the stain of earth remains….

[Remainder of poem removed 8-18-05]

* * * *

On Discovering a Poem by Paul Zweig

I have grown too accustomed to the terms
of surrender, the unconditional so-called
human condition. In the crawl-space
under my house, dust where no rain
has fallen in a hundred & fifty years
preserves not merely bones but hide
& hair of rat, raccoon, groundhog.
A porcupine flat as a punctured balloon
still bristles with the nibs of dry pens.
Every few years when I have to repair
the insulation around the heating ducts,
I uncover the remains of my fellow inhabitants
with a shock of recognition:
that I have never been here before, as long
as I have traveled in this one place.
Perennial wonder that we & the dead
should possess such durability. Aside
from the body’s moist exudates,
what passes? Earth, bone, these fossils
under our faces: consonants in
some ancient Baedeker
dehydrated for easy portability –
add vowels & serve.

I ask no more of you than what you wanted
from yourself, Zweig. The opening poem
in your posthumous book almost begs
the well-traveled reader to pass by.
Blood, stones, field – the shibboleths
of every workshop poet. But I am hardly
a sophisticate myself; what better place
to begin than the common gate?
We spell each other, then. The dry bones live.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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