Petra Backonja


The Lives They Wish

for David-Baptiste Chirot


Poets wish for their poems a certain life. But what of a poem’s own skies?

For its domestic circumstance, for happiness or misery, a poem does not of course depend on its poet. Not necessarily being mere marks on paper, poems have their extra-literary existence and may manifest as hearing loss or a birthday party. There was once a naked, terrible poem that thought it wanted to be a war and so now it is.

Of the pretty life, the not quite glowy but not too hideous life, what can I say? Poems, on the other hand, lead lives which, because we are not the sentient ophthalmoscopes we think we are, remain invisible to us, or camouflaged, or else common and plain like when the Polish Pope would speak Polish and “even” a dog named Rico knows 200 words. The poem might say, “Because I failed in even the most extraordinary things, the future aims complete abstraction at me and imposes a desert.” If the poem thinks this, it is because it’s a general principle. One need only look at the unfortunate people on the moon to know it’s true.

There are some poems too simple to paraphrase, but they feel miserable nevertheless because, having been rendered witless by them, we think they’re conceited. Some poems seem happier, but to this happiness a poem only arrives geometrically or on foot through the city of knowledge. It is possible that the real life of a poem may be worked out most reliably by engineers and night watchmen because a poem’s “irresponsible pretension to genius” is a pretension to which engineers and night watchmen seem quite blind.

Being as it is that poems insist on their own life—for example they say things like le rêve fraîchit—it’s only natural that they would want their own little corner where they can take stock of the forces that “cool their dreams.” Is the rose-tangle of poetic forms a diagram of these forces? I ask because poems are not stupid in the way that poets can be stupid.

Poems disappear, become influential like those men who go to the corner store to buy cigarettes and are never heard from again. A poem wants (or needs!) so little—certainly not aboutness—rather, some small boon and a cat, a deck of cards, air and dregless color, sleep that is a weathervane. Its life accrues in the uptilt of time, at once incomplete and completely absorbed in balloonery.