Sometimes we forget to sing. Sometimes we are singing in the wrong color. This poem is a reminder that we don’t have a lot of time on our hands. That we cannot afford the delay. That we need to be singing now. Tony Hoagland’s “The Delay” reminds me of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s poem that I nicknamed “Lost time” —
I should walk up the stairs right now
and make slow love to the woman I live with
but I sit here drinking gingerale instead
and turning the pages of a book
about the polar expeditions — men
who ran away from what they should have done
to carve a name out for themselves
in a hunk of planetary ice.
In the yellowed, hundred-year-old photographs.
they still look arrogant and brash
in their brand new bearskin coats and beards.
The might be Nordic gods, posing on a ridge
above a caravan of Eskimoes and sleds.
But I wonder how they looked months later,
when the emptiness they wanted
such a close inspection of
had eaten out their cheeks, eaten up
the part of them made out of words,
and left the bony, silent men themselves
walking over fields of sea-green,
thousand-year old ice and wind. There are
other photographs — the Welshman
kneeling, as if to pray
at the carcass of a seal; Peary
weeping at the stump of his left hand.
There are other plot-lines and motifs
But the story stays the same: some of us
would rather die than change. We love
what will destroy us
as a shortcut through this world
which would bend an break us slowly
into average flesh and blood.
I close the book and listen to the noises
of an ordinary night. A chair that scrapes.
The cricket, like a small appliance
singing. The air of every room
so ponderously still. I can tell
that it is not too late.
And then I think this ordinariness
will crush me in its fist.
And then I wish it would
for Charlie Smith