Night-time inside the snow globe. / Flakes fall out of the black / into barn-light across the yard. / No susurrance from poplars. / The motorway is strangled. / The cows steam. // Jupiter, disguised as Diana,/ coaxed Callisto to his lair. / Orbits aligned, sped and tightened. / She became a bear, / pregnant and frightened, / setting among the stars, / a moon without resonance / renouncing Jupiter’s dominance—/ she wears the scars. // Night-time inside the snow globe. / Flakes fall out of the black, / hiding Jupiter and the stars. / You lean back on me, snow-gazing, / wanting snow on your face, / on your spectacles. / I taste the snow in your hair.
From The Coming-Down Time (Shoestring Press 2020)
FRAME of REFERENCE Eros seeks more than itself in seeking itself because its energized striving is already empowered by a secret agapeic surplus to which it is (called) to remain true, though it is free to turn it away and turn itself awry. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal (2016), p. 360.
A time of self- imposed isolation for the good of others— quarantine— is profoundly counterintuitive to manifestly social beings like humans, and yet ….
Lyric just keeps on doing quarantine. We adjust our habits to our cases. I am a writer now retired, grieving, aging, living in modest quarters with friends who respect my privacy, in a time of quarantine. My daily routine includes this twitter column exploring a lyric in the ways it connects me with others. It helps me get through another day in quarantine and I hope it helps my readers too.
Robert Selby’s “In a Coming-Down Time” (Shoestring Press 2020) connects us with life in East Anglia through the long tumult and private trials of the 20th century. So we say. We could just say it addresses the reader in her time of quarantine.
The lyric narrative assumes self-isolated selves; it addresses such selves in terms of the unnamable Intimate Universal of their changes. This poem is named for one of those innumerable ancient myths in which a female suffers the violence of male will to power or Eros and changes her mode of being. Human imagining is full of such narratives. We call them Classic.
The lyric narrative draws on a body of presuppositions, and this lyric is no exception. One can google Callisto. It is presupposed that overpowering male Eros has its way with female finite beings. It is assumed that resistance to this violence involves the woman in “outward” changes. The whole middle stanza is given to this given of the lyric repertoire.
The myth is framed by more particular details. The snow globe sets the scene. Stock lyricism: self-isolation. Fantasy. Negation: “the black” surround, no reassuring voices from ruffled poplars, no sound from the highway that connects this place to other human places. The image of cows steaming tells the story of the moment and sets up the transition to the myth.
It moves along the track of the lyric narrative without a glitch. As readers we expect these moves from the local given situation into the world of verbal equivocities, associations, from snowglobe to barn-light (the compound noun a particularly felicitous expander), the negatives narrowing the focus to a single luminous image of “the poem concrete universal” (scare quotes meant to put that terminology on notice: it won’t survive the poem’s rejection of idealist absorption into the shopworn individualism associated unnecessarily with lyric). Those steaming cows are brilliant.
The narrative works its way to the imagination’s abyss and repeats itself. Refrain! Formal closure, the well- behaved lyric urn. No, no.
With the vast toolkit of the lyric comes that pronoun shift so common to lyric endings. YOU are suddenly there, thanks to the resources of the narrative. YOU like the steaming cows are alive in your own flesh. YOU are not in the snowglobe of the myth of Eros and transformation. YOU are “ double”: “You lean back on me, snow gazing”! YOU/I!
Every time I read that line it’s like waking from a nightmare.
The snow is real, the snowglobe just a toy. YOU WANT REAL SNOW. On your face, on your spectacles (another stroke of lyric genius, breaking the isolation of the problem of the contingencies of the case, which the lyric narrative finally sees from its own perspective of the INTIMATE not determinative or “conceptual” formalist universal). Whew!
The snow is real! “I taste it in your hair.” A killer line, worth the price of admission. I love this poem! The fulfillment of the lyric narrative in this image of finitude’s flesh, MORE than erotic/objective, opens beyond this between of the snowglobe to the Metaxy of agapeic love, but that’s another story.