All that’s best of dark and bright… This is Florida, where supremely brilliant days give way to the blackest of cosmic backdrops. The intensity of light and lightlessness draws poets, among them Charlie Smith.
Schubert in Florida
When you slunk across my dream
I was listening
to Schubert, I was standing in a stairwell
in a beach town, listening to Schubert’s darkest sonata
Poetry, so much of poetry, is dream. I’ve said this – and tried to demonstrate it – constantly on this blog. Poetry is the navigation of dream, if you like — poetry takes for granted our hard-won, fugitive awareness at any daylight moment; it tells us we are not really in command of ourselves. Rather we attempt, every blessed day, to marshal our consciousness-forces with enough plausibility to make it through social life, though a public world, all the time in peril of being pulled under into our private stream of consciousness.
So not really dark and light, but a tissue of them, a dance with them, a struggle — a musical counterpoint — between them, and this tends to be poetry’s territory, the exploration and expression of the mind oscillating between something like what Freud meant by ego and id. If Schubert’s darkest work waltzes forward with deep obscure personal sorrow, sunniest Florida strains hard in the other direction, all communal sweetness and light even as the cosmic blackdrop is always there. Smith will place his speaker in that tug of war as he tries to drag himself out of a darkly persistent passion for an ex-lover and enter the light of day.
thinking of children
coming on love for the first time, of their hands,
trembling as they reach across an obscure space
to touch the beloved who has become everything
important in life
Well I’ll be damned, writes Joan Baez in a song about her long-ago lover Bob Dylan, here comes your ghost again. In this instance, the woman the speaker can’t get over has “slunk” into his dream, prompting, on his waking, thoughts of early, cryptic, all-encompassing passion… and, implicitly, personal amazement at the lifelong intensity of his passion for the woman who haunts his dreams.
and thought how ridiculous
and destructive this is, this irrepressible need
for the loved one, the cascade through the self
of another’s presence –
thinking of the music
picking my way through this like a man searching
tearfully for his most important possession, a man drifting
through one of the aging Florida beach towns
on an August day
Of course music, pure music, is pure dream; there’s a kind of structure, a kind of dream logic; and there’s an expressivity that is strong but inarticulable. Dreams and music move along to some meaning, or at least both feel profoundly meaningful, and we pick our way through both because both often seem to contain not only the most important things but, in their self-contained power and beauty, some explanation, some justification, for the way we are.
So… that “aging” town is our guy, having moved past passion to tearful acknowledgment of its weird loss/retention; and that Floridian August is the passion still somehow burning very bright – at least on the evidence of who goes slinking through one’s dreams.
who abruptly leaves the dolphin performance
and returns to his car
parked in the shade of a gumbo-limbo tree
and takes a nap
& dreams of his ex-wife crossing a sun-streaked lawn,
a fine woman who glances at him without desire
That “limbo” tree is a nice touch, since we’re arguing that all of us exist not in clarity of consciousness and then sleep, not in past and then present, but in a much more interesting state of limbo. And here the drifty confused impassioned old guy suddenly (not with forethought) leaves the bright dolphin display of the Florida beach and goes back to his Schubertian car (one assumes it’s his own radio he’s hearing when he stands in the stairwell) and takes the nap that generates the dream with which the poem begins: the lost lover never lost, always crossing the sun-streaked world of youth that his unconscious generates in the night.
as one would glance
indifferently at a stranger standing in an outdoor stairwell
in a beach town listening to Schubert playing on a car radio,
a stranger waiting almost patiently for a brief sadness
to quell and die down, so he might move on from there.