given his showing up to teach at the U
disheveled, jittery cigarette and cigarette and probably
the drink, losing the very way there
over river, river of all song, all American story
which starts way north of St. Paul quiet or undone
wandering south, not
enraged mostly, something stranger.
That’s one epic shard of John Berryman anyway.
Notorious. And par for the course in a classroom
in sacred retrospect, the kind those long-ago students
now can’t believe themselves
so accidentally chosen, grateful though one
probably claimed the poet absolutely
bonkers then, out of his tree toward the end,
so went the parlance. Wasn’t he
always late—Give them back, Weirdo!—with those
brilliant papers they eked out, small dim-lit
hours when a big fat beer would’ve
been nice. Really nice.
Fuck him, I hear that kid most definitely
blurting were he young right now
though the others— From the get-go their
startle and reverence. But not even that malcontent
did the damning I can’t believe
they gave him tenure.
Here’s where I think something else, think
of course it’s the Dream Songs that rattled him until—
as grandparents used to say—he couldn’t
see straight. Like Dickinson’s bits of shock and light
did her in between naps and those letters to
some vague beloved unattainable. Or Plath, her
meticulous crushing fog. Maybe closer to Milton working
his blindness—literally blind rage, if you want
to talk rage—into pages soaked through with triumphant
failure and rhyme, always
that high orchestration, that alpha/omega big voice thing.
And Satan, after all, as wise guy
and looming because for chrissake, Jack, get an interesting
character in there! Someone must have
lobbed that right.
All along, Berryman: how those Dream Songs surely
loosened a bolt or a wheel in his orderly
scholar-head, must have come at him
like Michael the Archangel, 77 days of winged flash
searing him to genius, some kind of
whack-a-mole version. Maybe like Gabriel
cutting that starry celebrity deal
for a most dubious conception in the desert, near a fig tree,
no proper human mechanics required. At last
Berryman’s rage wasn’t rage
but sorrow turned back on itself. With teeth.
Henry my hero of crankiness and feigned indifference,
unspeakable industry, exhaustion
and grief, half funny-crazy, half who-knows-what-
that-line-means. A henry whole
universe of Henry, of
there ought to be a law against Henry—pause
and pause—Mister Bones: there is.
Will be! Was! Not to say poetry’s
worth it or the most healthy fascination for the sane.
I’m just, I mean—is this love?
There’s break, as in lucky, as in
shatter. There’s smitten and there’s smite.