Apollinaire in the Midst of Bombardment
Every explosion creates order.
I watch for what will happen next.
Mud flowers at the bottom of the trench,
and I see a garden in Montmartre, black stockings
brushing against roses, a woman’s hand
opening to a face. I think of poetry,
how you start with a blank page.
Then a landscape rouches
around a shell’s explosion.
I remember Andre Rouveyre’s small coupe;
including his chauffeur, there were three of us,
and we said good-bye to an entire epoch,
driving from Deauville to Liseux.
Another shell: look at the fan
of earth, the Frisian horses
with their sharp teeth.
Marie bit me back with each kiss,
the palms of her breasts
flattening against my chest.
How her armpits stared.
I gaze into a muddy mirror
and wonder why each glint of fire
erases my face.
After Einstein Walks out to View the Rooftops of Paris
The birds return to the balcony
where he calls a woman
three times from violent flight,
but his voice runs like water
over steps, and is gone. Her screaming begins,
and his young bride looks down
at the unexpected eddies of her shadow.
Her hair is streaming, each strand
passing blackness across her mouth.
He wants to find the place under her arm
where the skin is palest to kiss,
as if here were a woman’s soul. As if
a soul could be mathematical,
pure and simple even in its sudden
complexity, like the stars that night
they lay on the divan pushed out
onto the balcony. Hysterical, she drops
her black silk dress from the railing.
She has smashed the wedding cake;
he turns away, unable to comfort her,
and glimpses the eternal
not a religious panel
but melancholy numbers.
Oh to sit with God in a lawn chair,
but he’d settle for this:
to have her stop screaming,
for theories on light and its speed
have left her crazy, weeping at his feet.
The poems in Russell Thorburn's Approximate Desire travel far in place and time, displaying an astonishing range while grounding themselves in subtle, impressionistic landscapes. Cocteau, Apollinaire, Einstein, Ty Cobb--you never know who's going to show up, but it's clear that everyone is comfortable here on these pages. I love the quiet dignity of these poems. When I read this book, I felt someone's hand over my heart.
We read the title soft as description, hard as an imperative. I balance between--Thorburn wields some gentleness of attention to a man's fantasies and fond reminiscences, but there is also a tough-minded agenda here, to make sense of the given, what his life gives him to work with, the karmic webs of his own inclination and happenstance, his cities and false starts. Shimmering Paris and basic Michigan. Ty Cobb and Apollinaire fight it out on the basepaths--Thorburn's is an utterly solid use of baseball in poetry, he's devout about the Eurydicean grace of the game--baseball is a game about losing--and there's no awful tongue in cheek cuteness. Baseball is an art and its practitioners are smart peers to surrealist poets and famous painters. But in the best poem in the book, it's a poet alone who works it out with a city all around him, and loses, and loses his life into song.
The achievement of Approximate Desire is more than considerable; it is indispensable. These are poems of deep compassion and remarkable vision, and I was both haunted and sobered by the ways in which sorrow finds its equivalent in love, and vice versa. An original and fully engaging debut collection of the first order.
Russell Thorburn's remarkable visionary poems are an invitation to play life-and-death baseball with Ty Cobb and the Oaxaca Nine or maybe walk hand-in-hand with such luminaries as Einstein, Apollinaire, and Cocteau. Transcending time and space, these poems take my breath away. They emerge from the imagination and heart--astonishing in their brilliance, impeccable in their leaps of language, and utterly devastating in their inner truth.