Thursday, December 6, 2012

clothes a wantonness

When I read the words "gold wire" (referring to hair) in one of these poems my mind glosses over "gold" and sees predominantly "wire," the stiff, tough line, harder to bend than a hair, rough not supple; the word "gold" does not modify this effect at all. I see "gold" next to "wire" and it is as if I've read the word "metal" and then another word in parentheses, which is something like potscrubber, one of those metal nests that take the crusts off saucepans.

Then the poet is strange since he seems to be loving this woman because of her scrubbly hair, not in spite of it, he is expecting us to love it too, and gathering us in innocently and with such trust, as though we too, myself and everyone else who might one day read this poem or has, one day in the past, read it, loves also this clotty hair. There he is, glowing over that wig as if it's come off an ad for Pantene. I've arrived at this gold-wire poem from the romantic poem before, also by the same poet but not with any mention of wire hair; I thought he was the same as the rest but now I am surprised by the perversity of his fetish: brave man, I think, admitting this in public.

In his next poem I wonder if he will tell me that he likes something else, sniffing feet, or collecting used undies from vending machines, or he was not fetishistic, he was only Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674) and he liked the mess that pushed back against the tyranny of order.

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;--
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

But disorder can be tyrannous as well if there is too much of it. What does that mean? That this morning I walked into a fresh public toilet and homelessness was washing in the sink. That's primarily what I mean by that sentence, or else it's the aura I felt around that sentence as I was writing it, or the inspiration, or the compulsion, or the fuel. The word "disorder" in Herrick's poem set me off and I thought, "The homeless woman had disorder and it was too much, it was not sweet; she wanted order, disorder is not always wonderful, just a hint of disorder is what we like, the touch as he says (the stomacher is not erring all over, only "here and there"), and the huge disorder, like this woman's disorder, sticky and stuck to her, is not what we like. (The most vital words in the poem are those that make the disorder smaller, and contain it, and describe it.) When is there too much of a thing? When we can't get away from it. Here is an idea," I said to myself, possibly wrong, possibly not totally wrong, so stash the notion away and save it for later, "assume that part of the pleasure you get from the careless shoe-string or other slight disorder comes from the idea that this a secret thing, mostly concealed, and you've spotted it, you've exposed it, it is your triumph, other people can't see this thing, and you might have looked in the wrong place too if you were not so canny and smart, but nobody congratulates themselves when they notice an untidy homeless person, and nobody would think they had found out a secret if they had walked into that public toilet and noticed that this woman had an unusually strong smell; then there is not self-congratulation, there is another set of ideas instead.

'Now imagine the ratios changed in this situation and the woman is rich, clean, and beautiful with almost no scent, just a tiny tiny whiff as you walk past, of sweat, come then gone, and she strides onwards with business to do, she doesn't stand by the sink carefully soaking up water with a paper towel."

Then I had a reaction to that specific and powerful smell, which was the strongest homeless smell I'd ever smelt, and stronger than the smell of the man in green, who is clean and likes mathematics, and stronger than the smell of the man who seems to be homeful not homeless but for whatever reason never washes his clothes or teeth. My disorder-sentence ("tyrannous" etc) is maybe or maybe not a gesture in their direction too: look, it says, this broad comparison of scents, and the scent of this woman placed at the top in the category of Strongest and A Prompt. If you had been with me this morning then I wouldn't have bothered to write about tyranny. I would have written, "Remember that sink this morning and the amazing smell?" But then I might think, "I have to explain why I'm putting this after Herrick's poem, otherwise they won't trust me and will think I'm just writing now whatever comes into my head," which would be true, because it was what came into my head, but, saying so, you would sound as if you thought it was random.

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