Jesus, Master of the Sea
Come, swim, under.
The summer flounder compound's
in a thunder, clouds of castoff
tissue, vicious sea-cat
mother--I'm here to bless
the carnage. I'm here to answer
questions. Take my hand.
turn profoundly moving.
like lost balloons,
their indecisive down-time.
Among the bottom scour,
flora flicker off and on,
fish resemble fowl.
What's your question, Violetta?
Walking on the water?
Yes, it's fun, like perfect skin
that hides internal candy--
who hasn't tried a pomegranate
and not belied their tongue?
But when it's done,
the breach lives on--a simple
step on solid ground
and I'm laid out, a grand capon,
trussed in my own tether.
The above is by Larissa Szporluk, from her book The Wind, Master Cherry, The Wind, which Aimee Nezhukumatathil has been talking up on her friendly and good-natured blog. (Szporluk owes Aimee Nez a thank-you note.) So I bought it, and I haven't regretted my purchase: I'm only on the second page, and the first two poems both demand re-reading.
This poem's chock-full of alliterative wordplay, sometimes a little too obvious ("Limbs submerged/turn profoundly moving" is, I think, nearly groan-inducing). What I've had difficulty understanding is why this playfulness is not at odds with the sea-floor mayhem and redemptive character of this Jesus poem.
After thinking about it, I understand that the mayhem, too, must be meant playfully, or at least not in full seriousness. "I'm here to bless the carnage" is not, after all, a weightly theological statement, but almost an aside, since the very word "carnage" is more or less captive to irony. (When was the last time you heard it used in all seriousness of condemnation?) I think this is right when I consider the turning point of the poem: "What's your question, Violetta?/Walking on the water?" Jesus has an audience, but it's a schoolgirl, or at least someone with schoolgirlish awe. The sing-song iamb of the next two lines reinforce the playfulness.
I find puzzling the contradictory tone of the poem's end. "But when it's done/the breach lives on" is a sweeping-but-concrete summary of the permanence of the divide, whether it's between the outside and inside of the fruit or between water and dry land.
What happens next? Jesus himself falls flat on his face, a trussed capon, fish become fowl. I enjoy slapstick as much as the next guy, but I can't help but think that the true heart of the poem is buried somewhere beneath the whimsicality. I'm prepared to be convinced otherwise, though, if anyone else has a different take.
"Cape," a poem by Dana Goodyear in Slate, also shoves all its rhymes into the middle of its lines, as if nothing so orotund as end-rhyming were allowed by free-verse law. It's a summery piece of blasé fluff (no, I didn't know what "Swiss dot" meant, either, until I Googled it). The problem with calling the shore "boring, boring" is that the reader is likely to agree with your description.