Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Adultery" by James Dickey

Yesterday I worked on poem titles, and the only good ones I could come up with were those by other poets. Here’s one of my favorite titles and first line combinations: “Adultery” by James Dickey. “We have all been in rooms / We cannot die in.…”

How can a poet not be envious of that beginning? I admire a lot in this poem, but what I especially admire is the fallible speaker. This first person speaker not only admits to having an affair, but revels in the guilt, in fact ends with “guilt is magical,” and plans to cheat again: “My lover, my dear one, / I will see you next week / When I'm in town.” As I have mentioned in my “Back in Amurika” blog, I’ve grown tired and outright suspicious of the holier-than-others poet persona. This persona adopts a posture similar to Rodin’s The Thinker and sits about until he can deliver up a bite-sized dollop of epiphany. Where’s the unreliable narrator? The arse? Are poets always so good and wise? Naw. Fiction knows how to explore the unreliable narrator. And the following poem is a great example of being brave enough to do so.


by James Dickey

We have all been in rooms

We cannot die in, and they are odd places, and sad.

Often Indians are standing eagle-armed on hills


In the sunrise open wide to the Great Spirit

Or gliding in canoes or cattle are browsing on the walls

Far away gazing down with the eyes of our children


Not far away or there are men driving

The last railspike, which has turned

Gold in their hands. Gigantic forepleasure lives


Among such scenes, and we are alone with it

At last. There is always some weeping

Between us and someone is always checking


A wrist watch by the bed to see how much

Longer we have left. Nothing can come

Of this nothing can come


Of us: of me with my grim techniques

Or you who have sealed your womb

With a ring of convulsive rubber:


Although we come together,

Nothing will come of us. But we would not give

It up, for death is beaten


By praying Indians by distant cows historical

Hammers by hazardous meetings that bridge

A continent. One could never die here


Never die never die

While crying. My lover, my dear one

I will see you next week


When I'm in town. I will call you

If I can. Please get hold of Please don't

Oh God, Please don't any more I can't bear... Listen:


We have done it again we are

Still living. Sit up and smile,

God bless you. Guilt is magical.


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