April Reviews: James Tate

Zach Savich
April 16, 2013
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Should I refrain from posting a review of a poetry collection today, out of my horror and anxiety about the events in Boston? Or should I admit that the more days I’m alive, and the worse things get, the more I depend on the poems of James Tate? We read from his later selected poems, Eternal Ones of the Dream (Ecco, 2012), last night in the kitchen. I remember him reading Frost and Whitman to our poetry workshop at UMass, and last night so many of his poems seemed to echo “Directive,” to respond to the sixth section of “Song of Myself.” I suppose that’s another way of saying they are poems I believe in. Here is one of them, which you can hear Tate read via the Poetry Society of America:

Map of the Lost World

Things were getting to me, things of no

consequence in themselves, but, taken together,

they were undermining my ability to cope. I needed

a hammer to nail something up, but my hammer wasn’t

in the toolbox. It wasn’t anywhere to be found.

I broke a dish while putting away the dishes, but

where’s the broom? Not in the broom closet. How do

you lose a broom? Where was it hiding? And, then,

later, while making the bed, I found the hammer.

Perhaps it was used as a sleeping-aid device. Then

Kelly called and said she had lost her ring last night

and would I please look under the bed. I looked and

found the broom there. So I decided to sweep under

there to see if I could find her ring. I swept out

a rosary, a spark plug, a snakeskin—three feet long—

a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, a swizzle stick,

a jawbreaker, and much more. But no ring. I put the

broom into the broom closet, and started to feel a little

better. I hung the picture and put the hammer into

the toolbox. I made myself a cup of tea, and sat down

in the living room. I had no idea how any of that

stuff could have gotten under my bed. None of it

belonged to me. It was quite a disturbing assortment.

Then I thought of Kelly’s ring, and how it could have

fallen behind one of the cushions on the couch. I

drank some tea to calm my nerves. The stuff under

the bed could be the residue of dreams. I drank some

more tea. Then I lifted the first cushion. There

was about three dollars’ worth of change and a monkey

carved out of teak. I didn’t like the monkey at all,

but I was happy to have the three dollars. Under the

next cushion there was a small glass hand, a lead soldier

in a gas mask, a key ring with three keys, and a map of

Frankfurt, Germany. I sipped my tea. My hands were

shaking. The whole morning was frittering away with

nonsense. I had work to do, or, if not that, then I

should be relaxing. I wasn’t going to look for Kelly’s ring

anymore at all. I sat there without moving, my mind

drifting over the clouds. I was pulling a yak over

a mountaintop, hauling water and rice to a dead wise man,

who knows nothing, says nothing.

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