If I were you

for Dale

What if you opened your morning paper and found nothing but poems — lyrical and satirical, surrealistic and realistic — illustrated by photos straight from an art gallery?

What if your scrambled eggs rhymed with your orange juice, and your coffee made you think of a nightcrawler’s ladder into the earth?

What if your partner’s sleepy good morning lit up the kitchen, like a human-scaled version of the third verse of Genesis?

What if the house sparrows scrapping on the sidewalk seemed as worthy of attention as Odysseus and Achilles, and twice as heroic?

What if, when the sunrise hit your rearview mirror, you were to marvel at the daily coincidence of clarity and blindness?

What if the voices on the radio blended with the traffic noise like a stream into a river, the turbulent knowledge of particulars loosed into a more impartial capacity to reflect?

What if the bits of trash along the freeway were shards of a sky that has been busy falling for well over a century, while the whole world has been too distracted to notice?

What if the parking lot filling up with cars looked like one half of a balance sheet, and you made your way into work thinking, Here comes another eight hours of inventing new rules fast enough to keep people from noticing it’s just a game?

What if the fax machine’s incessant tongues of paper were really prayer flags, intended to intercede with the angels of grief?

What if the printers and photocopiers were retooled looms, weaving sails of paper, piecemeal, for some incessant Armada?

What if the tech support guy were an authentic guru, every one of his seemingly dry instructions pregnant with allegory?

What if the soft cubicle walls reminded you of albumen, and the clicking of keyboards sounded like the tapping of beaks against shells, under the florescent lights of an enormous incubator?

What if, every time someone inserted a card into a machine, some small animal on the other side of the earth died an anonymous death?

What if time were money?

What if all the potted plants were replaced with very slow moving, green mimes?

What if, in order to pass from room to room, you had to perform a small ritual that included striking your knuckles at chest level against a removable section of wall, naming yourself, turning a small wheel at navel height, and executing a brief dance with a large, flat slab of dead tree flesh?

What if you put in your two-week’s notice just for the novelty of the thing, and discovered to your surprise that you would miss your fellow workers in all their pettiness, their chemical odors and imperfect beauty?

What if you rested your forehead briefly on the steering wheel and remembered how it felt to be five years old?

What if the unplowed fields of corn stubble along the highway were graveyards for the wind, parceled out into individual breaths?

What if the names and numbers on the signs were all in a foreign language, imposed by conquest?

What if the car kept heading straight for home at a mile a minute, your arms and legs operating smoothly in its service while you sat and watched, incredulous as a child at a magic show?

What if you found the words for all these things, and said them, and instead of laughing, people thanked you for saying what they too had often felt but hadn’t really thought about until this moment?

29 Replies to “If I were you”

  1. What if Dave took each of these beautiful illuminations or epiphanies and expanded them into a separate poem. He would have enough for a whole book…or very long scroll of papyrus. Wonderful poem Dave! I wonder how many people just hatched from their cubicles today because of you.

  2. Dave —
    What if a small bit of gravel popped loose beneath a passing walker’s foot, seting ripples like chill-bumps in ponds and puddles no matter how far away?

    Thanks for rippling, and riffing on Dale.

  3. Joan – That’s a good idea, to use each sentence as a starting-point for a poem. For me, usually brevity is the soul of laziness.

    Thanks for the comment. (I’m guessing you’re the same Joan whose light verse so often livens up Larry’s blog?)

    Lori – Funny you should mention gravel! I’ve been shoveling & raking gravel off and on for two weeks, now.

    Fred – Hmm, maybe I can interest some indie film producer in the rights?

    Pica – Aha! Finally, concrete proof that my terrorist plot to undermine American worker productivity is bearing fruit!

  4. A latecomer assents.

    The real miracle here is how the insights keep arriving and arriving. Fax paper as incessant tongues and prayer flags, potted plants as mimes, cubicle walls as albumen, trash as shards of the sky. We expect lazy lines, and are perpetually disappointed. The office has taken on the dimensions of a pilgrimage church.

    Your brain is unusually open Dave (generally, yes, but more so in this specific piece). Your ability to wander into a mental space so dense in image is something a lot of poets would kill for. I’d watch my back if I were you!

    Which leads me to ask: what the hell are you reading these days? Must be something potent.

  5. What a thought-provoking cascade of images and queries… and yes, the Joan of the above comment is the same Joan who has contributed so much to my blog. She’s beginning to range farther afield these days!

  6. Thanks, Dave, this is wonderful. Maybe only an exile from cubicle life could write this. Having just returned as a prodigal I’m finding myself rather fond of it. It’s as much full of life and the potential for magic as the proverbial chopping wood and carrying water.

  7. What a kind tribute to a man “whom, having not seen, [we] love.”

    Your writing here proves to me again that we may sometimes know someone by her writing if the life is lived and if the writing keeps up somewhat. It’s the promise of web logs.

  8. Thanks, once again. Y’all are too kind.

    Teju – I’m not reading much of anything, actually. I have reset my browser’s home page from Google News to Poetry Daily, but i don’t think that’s been a huge influence. Writing is like sex — when it’s good, it’s good, and who knows why. Nor should we stick to a literary model predicated upon a unitary climax — there are such things as multiple orgasms! As for watching my back, it always amazes that anyone could feel jealous or competitive about something so freely available as poetic inspiration.

    Larry – I’m glad to hear that Joan is wandering further out into the blogosphere, though of course that can be risky. Pretty soon she’ll start thinking, “Hey, I can do this too!” and then there’s no turning back.

    leslee – I’d be ashamed to admit just how little I know of cubicle land. Awfully glad to hear this resonated with you, though – and that you’re enjoying your return to office life.

    Peter – Thanks. Though in fact I actually have met Dale, if all too briefly. And I suppose I should add that although the piece is dedicated to him, for reasons that should be evident to anyone who has seen his most recent posts, the “you” of the poem (or whatever it is) is meant to be more generally applicable. (I suppose that’s obvious, but I’m never one to shy away from pointing out the obvious!)

  9. It is rather heartwarming, but after the first few I was starting to respond “… then you’re clearly tripping.” Not that there’s anything wrong with tripping! ;-)

  10. I sat still after reading this and after a time broke down weeping. I don’t know if I am happy or sad at what you wrote. I kept expecting the hopes of angels and then felt the whip of a demon. The world undecided and loose, without preconceptions. Is that how you see things when you look out the window? Giving everything, even the dark games, a chance? Because that is true tolerance, in all its terrible beauty. I love that you take the world for what it is and love it no matter how much it bites back.

  11. butuki – Thanks for that heartfelt reaction. By way of reply, I’d like to recommend a recent interview with the photographer Chris Jordan at Joerg Colberg’s blog. Jordan is the guy who takes artful photos of consumer waste, the damage of Hurricane Katrina, and other environmental disasters. “Beauty is a powerfully effective tool for drawing viewers into uncomfortable territory,” he says.

    Like Jordan, I have a definite stance. But I don’t want to preach; I would rather preserve the option of being wrong at every turn. (Lord knows we doomsayers would LOVE to mistaken!) So please don’t mistake my openness for some kind of impartiality. I do feel that the world would be better off if we could live more poetically, seeing through eyes of wonder rather than eyes of judgement. That sounds a lot like a judgement on my part, doesn’t it?

  12. I paused at your comment about seeing the world poetically as being judgemental and tried to assess whether any kind of color in your eyes might constitute a misdirection of the truth, but my conclusion: no, I don’t think so. Judgemental means to take a stance and deny the whole of something, while poetic in itself allows for, even demands, going beyond what your eyes tell you. I would go so far as to say that poetic is the opposite of judgemental, because it does not always rely on logic and cause and effect. The poetic thrives on discovery, whether that be something good or bad, and in the end everything in the entire world becomes beautiful, because the existence of everything has its rightful place, even ugly things. I think just dividing the world into “beautiful” and “ugly” is judgemental in itself and that only looking at so-called beautiful things means you cannot face and acknowledge a very great part of the world around you. Honest poetry doesn’t do that. And I feel you are an honest poet.

    Your link to the Chris Jordan interview reminded me of one late afternoon as I was returning from a long walk in the mountains here in Japan. I had missed the last bus and so had to walk three extra hours down through some very lonely woodland. In the gathering dusk I suddenly came upon an area in the woods that seemed to shimmer with thousands of white handkerchiefs lying all about on the forest floor. Upon drawing nearer I noticed that each “handkerchief” was a page from a magazine and that each page had a photograph of a naked woman… pages ripped out of a huge stack of porno magazines and strewn all over the area. The light was so dim that I could just barely make out the photos, but it seemed to me for a moment that I was surrounded by a host of silent fairies all imprisoned in the pages, silent as the deserted woods.

    Unlike Americans Japanese value deeply acknowledging the big problems they have as a society, but unlike Europeans they do very little about it. You should see how much garbage is tucked just out of sight everywhere, things which only a person who walks where people are not expected to walk can see.

  13. What a late night feast! I’m sure I’ll be taking some of your images to my dreams. Thanks to Dale’s post for leading me here from one of my old favourites where he left a comment. And, thank you.

  14. butuki – No argument with your analysis of poetic seeing. That’s a great story about the porno-fairies in the woods – prime poetic material there, if you ask me!

    I guess we’ve been over this ground before, but one of the big problems with Japan is the relative absence of ways to deal with conflict, when it does arise – inevitable in a capitalist society. Thus, virtually every union or grassroots organization is quickly co-opted, and litigation remains very uncommon, allowing all kinds of abuses to go forward.

    Wenda – Welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope you visit again.

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