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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Arielle Greenberg, My Kafka Century

My Kafka Century

By which I mean I have come to this dark country a carpetbagger,
and left it in the body of a woman.

That I am a good friend to dogs;
that my father’s thumping love for me churns me and makes me race the road.

That I spit under my tongue against childhood enemy;
that I wear a grudge like a brass star locket on a chain.

That my life is a kind of flag for Life in General;
that I am hateful and boastful and chosen enough to make such a claim.

That if this Life we speak about can be shared—
that it is full of black enamel typewriter keys and empty boats and things slither-
ing in corners.

but also pirate’s treasure, wrongfully acquired,
but occasionally spent in the service of some miniscule, temporary good

like shining in the earlobe of the one you love,
or tethering the cloth playhouse with its immeasurable weight.

After going through her first poetry collection recently, it was good to discover that Arielle Greenberg was already author of a second, My Kafka Century (Tuscaloosa Alabama: Action Books, 2005). Compared to her first poetry collection, Given (Verse, 2002), the poems here are more subtle, quieter; the movements smaller than those in her previous.

Center Field

I sure hope the aliens come and get me
from their dear place out in the corn.
We can play when they do: baseball, a game
with diamonds in it, and sing
a song with birds in it and nests in it,
and amidst all those twigs,
an icon among icons.
The aliens don’t know these rules
as they creep along, wrestling asunder
from its neighboring verbs,
little baby bird with stretched tongues
prying out the backs of their linear throats.
Come and get it, says the mama to her kin.
The mothership has made a yummy supper.
I live on this planet, I say again.
And do hope to be the shortstop
when the aliens on their streamlined spindles,
all spooky in their foreign whirring accents,
lob a fast one over to center field?
I sure don’t. I want to keep living here.
I want to be married to an earthling,
curled inside the homing device of an egg.

Sometimes when artists release albums, it’s the second one that gets them down, after a brilliant first; if they make it to three, they’re usually okay, with the third bringing the strength and maturity that the first exploded, and the second flailed, in usual growing pains. This second collection of Greenberg’s has stronger poems than the first, but the mix of things make it somewhat uneven, with various attempts that glow through the pages, and others that don’t quite make it. A wiser and smarter book, but less sure of itself, sometimes, for the unexplored places she goes. Greenberg tries a number of structural things with her poems to expand her repertoire, not all of which works, but I want to see where it is she goes next, writing transcendent lines and poems that almost shock for where it is they end up. But what does this have to do with Kafka?

Kafka’s Letter to His Father

There isn’t much you need to know about the story.
It was given to a mother.
The mother gave it back.
The mother came from an odd people.
One sister took over a gypsy farm.
Kafka once stayed at the sister’s farm when he was ill.
This sister, and two others, died in the camps or out of them.
The man who lies down with dogs awakens in fleas.
Each page has thirty-four lines.
A long balcony stretched the inner courtyard of Austrian homes.
The letter is long and “has an undertone of despair.”
“Sterben” is apparently German for dying.

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