FOR AN UNWRITTEN OPERA
Once you had a secret love: seeing
even his photo, a window is flung open
hight in the airless edifice that is you.
Though everything looks as if it is continuing
just as before, it is not, it is continuing
in a new way (sweet lingo O'Hara and Ashbery
teach). That's now how you naturally speak:
you tell yourself, first, that he is not the air
you need; second, that you loathe air.
As a boy you despised the world for replacing
God with another addiction, love.
Despised yourself. Was there no third thing?
But every blue moon the skeptical, the adamantly
disabused find themselves, like you,
returned to life by a secret: like him, in you.
Now you understand Janacek at
seventy, in love with a much younger
married woman, chastely writing her.
As in Mozart song remains no matter how
ordinary, how flawed the personae. For us poor
mortals: private accommodations. Magpie beauty.
This poem, the last in Frank Bidart's Metaphysical Dog, provoked a lot of discussion at our last meeting. The word “remains” seemed to cause the most trouble. A certain indignation arose over what was felt to be the denigration of the "ordinary … flawed … personae" (e.g. in Figaro), who weren't recognized as integral to the music but rather somehow left behind in its shadow. (Glibly, one might point out that no song remained from the same "personae" after the first performance of Beaumarchais' play.)
Bidart, however, is not concerned with how integral Cherubino, Susanna, et al. were in inspiring Mozart. What remains for them — as it does for the poem's persona, in his "airless edifice," loathing the air he tells himself he doesn't need, despising himself and addictions of any kind, "skeptical, adamantly disabused" — is the possibility of finding themselves "returned to life." A word that nowhere appears in Metaphysical Dog and that Bidart because of its associations would probably never use is "grace." And no matter how flawed or ordinary he or any other persona is, it remains a supervenient possibility, much as Mozart's music remains for his personae.
This last poem is astonishingly bright for a book with such a dark interior. We've come a long way from Belafont, writhing at his image in a mirror. The next time I read Metaphysical Dog (my fifth, I think … I've lost count) I will try to track this trail. Most people at our meeting hadn't read MD more than once. Any good book of poetry—any good poem—requires multiple readings. I hope our discussion and perhaps this post will encourage further readings.