Poem: David Slavitt

A Cambridge (MA) poet whose work I’ve always admired (and who is hilariously candid in readings, if you get the chance go see him.)

A good example of his style.

Repetition by David R. Slavitt

Somewhere between the rehearsals and reenactments
there must be–we suppose–a performance we either
perceive or whimsically choose and declare as the real

thing to which past and future, knowing or not,
all along referred. That welter of repetitions
turns out in the end not to have been so free,

as meaning imposes or, like the dumb sun, dawns,
and objects that swam in an indeterminate sea
of diffident potential assume their recalcitrant

shapes. So it is with events we thought we knew
rather too well. Beginnings and endings are clear,
but middles, that murk where significance often lurks,

are tricky, and joy, which ought to be easy enough
to recognize, defies the fastest tripping
shutter or eyelash flutter and, sly, furtive,

shy as a timid child, is abruptly gone,
leaving us searching, rummaging high and low,
(those, I’m afraid, are the usual places) looking

for some faint trace or imprint. Exceptional moments?
Diversions, mostly. Experience, where we live,
is lying down each night, disposed the same way

on the same bedding we tidied that morning. The rumples
we smoothed mean more than the wretched or splendid dreams
our souls proposed while our bodies shifted or thrashed.

What’s hard to see is whatever the blasé eye
assumes as we tread our daily round: a flash
of red as a cardinal crosses the sky, we’ll remark,

looking up, and ignore how our path leads gently downward.

Reminds me of Aaron Copland’s idea of repetition as the basic principle in all music: you only have two choices in a piece, do the same thing or something different. So it is in life…

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