I want you to think about this:
by Michael Ondaatje
Griffin calls to come and kiss him goodnight
I yell ok. Finish something I'm doing,
then something else, walk slowly round
the corner to my son's room.
He is standing arms outstretched
waiting for a bearhug. Grinning.
Why do I give my emotion an animal's name,
give it that dark squeeze of death?
This is the hug which collects
all his small bones and his warm neck against me.
The thin tough body under the pyjamas
locks to me like a magnet of blood.
How long was he standing there
like that, before I came?
(it feels, almost, as if I shouldn't write anything after this poem - I don't want to topple it - all that quiet Ondaatje sets up, all that daily real somehow both broadened & shattered by the movements & questions of this poem. I mean, fuck. This isn't typical of Ondaatje, this type of daily. There's one other poem I can think of, To A Sad Daughter, that carries anything close to this sense of the casual. Ondaatje's work is usually lush, lyrical, sensual. He's one of my very favorite authors & I (believe that I) have avoided writing about him here since there's simply too much to say. Let's call this post Dreams of Ondaatje, #1, in which we're simply to notice how sensitively & deliberately Ondaatje is balanced within the spectrum of emotion. The spectrum of emotion is an idea that came from Terrance Hayes - we were talking about some poems I'd shown him that discussed a difficult matter. He pointed out places where my adjectives tipped the poem towards sentimental, which is one side of the spectrum of emotion, the other side being, perhaps, cynicism. Now Ondaatje's poem is a parent's poem, any parent, maybe every parent. It's also specifically a father & son poem (if you're in the mood for a tangent, go look at Roethke's My Papa's Waltz & think about how poetry gives fathers & sons a new way to understand their physical relationship. Or something like that.) Back to the point, the question - How is it that Ondaatje doesn't make this a poem we roll our eyes at? How does he lead it away from sentimentality i.e. how does he manage to find conflict & questions within a situation as innocuous as bedtime? ... I have my own theories. #1 is : because he's fucking brilliant. #2 is a great deal longer. But these questions are for you, chickadees. Some questions for your brains to munch on. As for me, it's back to packing up my apartment. Beginning my drive to Houston on Tuesday. Stay tuned for Dreams of Ondaatje #2...