I want to write an honest sentence, one without judgment. When young, we're reaction machines—like the student who leaped in the air when I called his name—but then a long slow distancing begins. We acquire a moat, or see-through border wall, between us and our emotions. My response to the death of a poet is to imitate his sentences like Matt Morris throwing Darryl Kile's curve two days after Kile died. Style's a form of grieving, one that threads out like a shawl over bent shoulders. We see weight in the absence of uplift. Or in a back's bony protrusions. Occasionally, I see an old Asian woman doubled over at the waist, walking intently across a street. We interpret that angle as hard work or as hard emotion or as osteoporosis. I asked my students to define “haole” and to use the word in a sentence, which they did with utmost accuracy. Even within the context of bad history, it stung to read their answers about how those who are pale as ghosts lack breath, are foreign, outside. The man explains to his child self why another boy hit him on the head with a 2' by 4' as if he were half a metronome. One student described this as an embarrassing moment, not for the bully but for the bullied. Perhaps his skull didn't keep good time. To revise is to take private thoughts and work them into public shape. The guys at the gym do this in front of mirrors that are at once for them and for us. The distortion is all in my seeing you seeing yourself (muscle bound) in a wall length piece of glass. The woman who asked me to deliver her divorce papers trusted a stranger to do the work of making public her private grief. “Don't ask how I got involved,” I said as I turned back toward the gate, away from the yapping dogs and the smiling man. She was haole, he Hawaiian. “You live on an island” has so many meanings, not all of them geographical. But check your metaphors at the door; this is an age of literal fact and lie. His biographers, he says, have no access. That makes all of it fake news, as if “fake” were such a bad thing.
—12 September 2017
ContributorSusan M. Schultz
Susan M. Schultz edited The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry (Alabama, 1995). She has written elsewhere on Ashbery, as well. She is author of several books of poetry and poetic prose, including two volumes of Dementia Blog (Singing Horse) and four of Memory Cards (Potes & Poets, Singing Horse, Vagabond, Talisman). She lives and teaches in Hawai'i, and cheers for the St. Louis Cardinals.