David Wheatley’s well-folded very short poem

David Wheatley’s new collection “The President of Planet Earth” (Wake Forest) overflows with formal wit and wisdom.

Thinking about the fold, I’ll mention now a two-line poem titled “Sighting.”

A ? is standing on my
copy of “Birds of Scotland.”

The last three words are italicized (no quotation marks) as the title of the book the ? happens to be standing on. Presumably were it not
standing on the book the book would be in use to name it. But not knowing the name — referring to it only as a punctuation mark, even the least punctive or pointed question mark — makes us feel its presence as a mystery and a solider one at that.

The hinge (fold?) of the poem is “formally” the word copy. The bird, if we knew its name, would be closer to a copy of the model of the species. But we don’t know that species —- perhaps because we won’t open the book to find out and scare away the bird. The poem concludes with a name, not a question (mark). The final reference in the poem is to that definitive joining of title and substance that is a (copy of) a book and the other to the equivocal creature conjured in the first line. And yet the contrast between A and B rebounds to A. The nameless bird becomes a mystery in the flesh.

Very short poems must do a lot with little. The complex fold, the doubling of figurative structures, is happily unobtrusive. The clever poem is more than clever.