Saturday, November 25, 2006

Break Down

My son Oren is a hip-hop musician, and through him I first heard a song by Gorillaz called "Feel Good Inc." I wound up putting in on my iPod and in multiple listenings got caught up in the spirit of the song, the lyrics of which present, with a cheerful indifference to logic, a number of assertions which don't make much sense taken one by one but seem to add up to something when taken together. As I noted in an earlier post, I've been working on a series of poems with epigraphs taken from pop music, and I was intrigued with the idea of writing a poem that would explore that middle ground between sense and nonsense. The poem wound up being unlike pretty much anything I've written up to this point, although many of the preoccupations that I have already articulated in this blog inevitably seem to be pushing up from under the words. (Sometimes I ask my students to do an assignment called "Stop Making Sense," where I ask them to write a page of complete nonsense. It's a lot harder than you would think. Our brains are wired to make meaning even when—and many poets would argue especially when—we're not trying to, or even trying not to.) Anyway, that's how this poem started. It's been through perhaps 20 drafts at this point, and has begun to find something like its final shape, I think:

Break Down

City's breaking down on a camel's back.
They just have to go 'cause they don't know wack
So all you fill the streets it's appealing to see
You wont get out the county, 'cos you're badass free
You've got a new horizon It's ephemeral style.
A melancholy town where we never smile.

- Gorillaz

Lost apparitions of the Radiant One
Floating in the chamber ‘til the service is done.
Action overtaken in the manner of grace;
You won’t have a clue until you see His face.
Black star, trolleycar, a bump in the night;
The sidewalks are inviting but there’s no one in sight.
Sirens in the marketplace, the hour of lead,
Don’t let the carborundum into your head;
Watch the Mona Lisa, you can see her frown,
Eyes that will collar you and batter you down.
Smooth operators have infused your brain
With sentimental memories the color of rain.
What’s gonna happen next is anyone’s guess,
but the water pump is broken and the yard is a mess.
Up in the stratosphere the rockets rejoice,
The afterburn is speaking in a modular voice.
Emily and Lucy threw a party for Bear,
You may not remember but you know you were there.
Nothing is the ratio of centripetal force;
laugh if you want to, it’s a matter of course.
Here in the moment, if you just keep still,
you can listen for the horses coming over the hill;
seven scarlet feathers in a coonskin cap
will tell you where you’re going when it ain’t on the map.
Run until you’re broken but the heat won’t fade;
The hurricanes keep wiping out the plans we made.
Uptight, dynamite, the hour is nigh,
the comet is approaching and erasing the sky.
Rendezvous and wrestle with the muscular man,
argue with the angel and explain if you can
how the last of the ravens must have taken the seed;
the boy with the shotgun wasn’t up to speed.
Late night, oversight, the city’s asleep
stars in the stratosphere invite you to keep
asking questions but they never say why;
you’ll only find the answers on the other side.
Claptrap, gingersnap, according to Hoyle
You can’t cook the rice if the water won’t boil.
Here in the moment, when the weedwhacker whirls,
The wind whips the hair of the carnival girls.
They can dance all they want to but they won’t get paid;
The sailors keep on calling all the bluffs they made,
And out on the ocean they don’t know what to do;
‘cause the underwater models only shimmer in blue.
But you can let it simmer in the back of your mind:
What you think you’re seeking may not be what you find;
Flashlight, fistfight, the eye of the toad:
We have to keep on driving to the end of the road.
All right.

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