… in memory of C.D. Wright, who died yesterday. The uninterrupted poem can be found here, read by Wright.

The title, “Provinces,” refers on a literal level to provincial places far away from urban centers, and to the remote and – as times passes – frustrated lives lived there. It refers more obliquely to the sensually distant and unused “places” of the aging, lonely, and unloved human body. The poem will be an extended indirect discourse meditation about a speaker’s relationship to his or her sexless and increasingly useless body, shrunken from the world of other people, and shrunken even from the speaker. The poem is maybe also about the speaker’s useless life.

Where the old trees reign with their forward dark
light stares through a hole in the body’s long

Morning breaks, and the old and isolated speaker, sunlight in her eyes, awakens. The old trees will return at the end of the poem.

The bed rolls away from the body,
and the body is forced to find a chair.

Motion and agency belong to the natural, extra-human world, not the speaker’s body. Trees reign, light stares, the bed rolls. (Note also how the sad slow and somewhat creepy feel of the poem is accomplished in part through its simple monosyllabic words, coupled with short lines.) The speaker does not rise from the bed; the bed rolls away from the speaker, who is “forced” by this action to find another object on which to assume motionlessness.

At some hour
the body sequesters itself in a shuttered room
with no clock.

See also her poem, “Privacy” (“Stiller than water she lies / As in a glass dress // As if all life might come to its end / within the radius of her bed”). Wright is interested in the body at rest, alone in some sequestered out of the way (provincial) unchanging (no clock) setting; she is interested, let’s say, in the self in its full starkness, unmixed with the social world, with worldly activity. She wants to examine what we most deeply, most starkly, are, when all of the activity and distraction of life falls away.

When a clean sheet of paper floats by,
the head inclines on its axis.

Again the sense of the self reduced to a passive almost mechanical (axis) being, reflexively swiveling up to look at a sheet of paper floating by… This is a surrealistic, imagistic, symbolic poem, composed of a series of strange descriptions that somehow add up to an existential truth, or to a persuasive existential mood. That piece of paper carries the possibility of life’s meaninglessness, being “clean” and without writing.

It is one of those
common bodies that felt it could not exist without loving,
but has in fact gone on and on without love.

Once more you see the ambition to speak for the destiny of all of us (a common body) as we move away from youthful passion and toward a passionless solitude whose starkness allows us to see the truth of existence. This body is now not merely passive but ghostlike in its persistence despite the end of its affective life.

Like a cave that has stopped growing, we don’t call it dead,
but dormant.

Now we begin a series of lines comparing the “dead” human to a hibernating bear in a cave; but again – weirdly – it’s the inanimate thing that has being (the cave has stopped growing and become dormant). That image of the cave is continuous somehow with the poem’s first lines, which describe light finding a hole in the body as light will fill the hole of a cave. That “long house” of the body aligns it with the long deep habitation that is the cave. The speaker’s body has housed her for a long time in its (increasingly dormant) depths.

Now the body is on all fours, one arm
engaged in pulling hair from a trap, an activity
the body loathes.

Have we moved from the bed to the morning shower, where we get down to pull hair out of the drain? Are we also the bear, caught in a trap and trying to free itself? A loathsome activity either way, reminding the speaker how caught in the private/visceral life she is – no lover, no higher, non-material nature (there’s nothing in the poem to suggest that this solitude has a spiritual component).

When the time comes, the body
feeds on marinated meats and fruits trained to be luscious.

So we move on to lunch, as our human creature “feeds” on highly prepared, highly artificial food — an image that deepens our sense of her passivity. She lies in bed, or sits in a chair, waiting for the meats and fruits provided for her…

Once the body had ambitions — to be tall and remain
soft. No more,

Tall – stretched beyond mere materiality, mere grubbing passivity. Soft – permeable by the world of other people. But that’s over – it’s curled asleep/dead in hibernation.

but it enjoys rappelling to the water.

Every now and then the dried out sterile old body makes its difficult way to natural sources of replenishment.

Because the body’s dwelling is stone, perched over water,
we say the body is privileged.

How lucky we are not to be mere nature! To be able to distance ourselves, protect ourselves from, nature red in tooth and claw. We can look at water; we can rappel down to it when we need it; but we need not be drowned by it. We need not be drowned by passion. (Remember the old Paul Simon song: I am a rock. I am an island.)

Akin to characters
in Lawrence books, its livelihood is obscured.

Then what is the body for? If you are Gerald Crich, you can actually die of not knowing – or denying – your body’s vocation.

It owns
a horse named Campaign it mounts on foggy morns.
That was the body’s first lie. It has no horse
and wouldn’t climb on one.

A send-up of a culture that boasts endless best-selling books called things like The Purpose-Driven Life.

Because the body lives
so far from others, it likes reading about checkered lives
on the metrópoli.

I have my books and my poetry to protect me, sings Simon. I keep my distance in my simple animal existence, but I access the complex (checkered) lives of others through art.

It likes moving around at night under its dress.

Autoeroticism is better than no eroticism at all.

When it travels, bottles of lotion open in its bags.

All hell breaks loose as it threatens to become “soft” (see earlier line about the speaker’s earlier ambition to be soft, to not be stone) when it nears the world of other people.

Early in March the big rains came — washing all good thoughts
from the body’s cracks and chinks.

You can’t stop the cycles of nature from happening. The world is going to wake up and destroy all of your nice fortifications (see the famous opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: Winter kept us warm...) and to some extent you’re going to have to wake up as well — to the world as it is.

By now the body admits
it is getting on, and yet, continues to be tormented
by things being the way they are.

Who is ever really reconciled to the human condition? You can try living as far away as possible from it, even in a cave, but the light of the world will find you and madden you.

Recently the body took
one of the old trees for a wife, but the union has broken down.

Try the pagan approach; make yourself one with nature. Yet your possession of a mind and a soul and a passion-seeking body will make this an impossible match.

The light has bored out of the body’s long house.

In the first lines, light “stared” into the body; by now – the end of the day – it is boring its way out of the body. This is not merely a mechanical image; it is pretty sadistic. It is painful to be invaded, and then abandoned, by the light of the world, the touch of other human beings.

Fog envelops its stone flanks.

Once more, time for (quoting Yeats) stony sleep.

Still the body
enjoys rappelling to the water.

But this would be the enjoyment of a dream, the unconscious climbing down each night into the realm of fertility, passion.

And it likes the twenty four-hour stores,
walking up and down the aisles, not putting a thing in its basket.

Or you could wake up, any old time, and sleepwalk along the aisles of the stores where your luscious pretend nourishment marinates forever.

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One Response to “Line by Line Through the Poem “Provinces”…”

  1. Sequel « Log24 Says:

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