Sunday, December 25, 2016

`Tonight, Though, It Is Almost Worth the Price'

All my sons are under my roof. I don’t need another thing, though more than I deserve always arrives. If I’ve given my sons anything worthwhile, it’s the gift of good talk. Their heads, like mine, are overstuffed, fluent and highly associative. Prime the pump ever so slightly – say, The Twilight Zone or Bing Crosby – and we’re good for another hour. We are introverts who leave our shells and blossom in the right company. L.E. Sissman’s poems are like that, opening midway unexpectedly, heading off in fruitful digressions, seldom conforming to formula. Here is an oblique and posthumously published Christmas aubade by Sissman, “December 27, 1966” (Hello, Darkness: The Collected Poems of L.E. Sissman, 1978):

“Night sweat: my temperature spikes to 102
At 5 a.m. -- a classic symptom – and,
Awake and shaken by an ague, I
Peep out a western window at the worn
Halfdollar of the moon, couched in the rose
And purple medium of air above
The little, distant mountains, a black line
Of gentle ox humps, flanked by greeny lights
Where a still empty highway goes. In Christmas week,
The stars flash ornamentally with the
Pure comeon of a possibility
Of peace beyond all reason, of the spheres
Engaged in an adagio saraband
Of perfect mathematic to set an
Example for the earthly, who abide        
In vales of breakdown out of warranty,
The unrepairable complaint that rattles us
To death. Tonight, though, it is almost worth the price –
High stakes, and the veiled dealer vends bad cards –
To see the moon so silver going west,
So ladily serene because so dead,
So closely tailed by her consort of stars,
So far above the feverish, shivering
Nightwatchman against the falling glass.”

“Shaken by an ague.” “Greeny lights.” “Adagio saraband.” Marvelously Shakespearean phrases worthy of Sissman and his friend Anthony Hecht. And most memorably: “the earthly, who abide / In vales of breakdown out of warranty, / The unrepairable complaint that rattles us / To death.” For a living, Sissman wrote advertizing copy, and he was dying of cancer. It killed him at forty-eight. In the essay “The City Shepherd’s Calendar” (Innocent Bystander: The Scene from the 70s, 1975), Sissman writes:

“December. Away from the cities and their parroted chatter of Christmas, which would fail to fool any self-regarding child, the world rolls to the brink of the solstice, where life lives banked in burrows and the earth is a surface of storm tracks; wide miss, near miss, direct hit, and snowbound, We burn our cordwood, make cocoa, walk out in waders, smile smugly in our highly temporary isolation. Not a bad way to greet a new year.”

Sissman was born on New Year’s Day 1928 in Detroit, and died March 10, 1976 in Boston.

1 comment:

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Happy Christmas! It's wonderful to read about your family.

And I, too, love that wonderful generation of poets born in the 1920's. Will we ever see their like again in our lives?
Sisson, Hecht, Nemerov, Wilbur, Justice, Hall, Levine, O'Hara, Amy Clampitt? John Williams?