Rosa's Poetry Archives: Annie Dillard

The Man Who Wishes To Feed On Mahogany

Chesterton tells us that if someone wished to feed exclusively on mahogany, poetry would not be able to express this. Instead, if a man happens to love and not be loved in return, or if he mourns the absence or loss of someone, then poetry is able to express these feelings precisely because they are commonplace.
-Borges, Interview in Encounter, April 1969

Not the man who wishes to feed on mahogany
and who happens to love and not be loved in return;
not mourning in autumn the absence or loss of someone,
remembering how, in a yellow dress, she leaned
light-shouldered, lanky, over a platter of pears-
no; no tricks. Just the man and his wish, alone.

That there should be mahogany, real, in the world,
instead of no mahogany, rings in his mind
like a gong-that in humid Haitian forests are trees,
hard trees, not holes in air, not nothing, no Haiti
no zone for trees nor time for wood to grow:
reality rounds his mind like rings in a tree.

Love is the factor, love is the type, and the poem.
Is love a trick, to make him commonplace?
He wishes, cool in his windy rooms. He thinks:
of all earth's shapes, her coils, rays, and nets,
mahogany I love, this sunburnt red,
this close-grained, scented slab, my fellow creature.

He knows he can't feed on the wood he loves, and he won't.
But desire walks on lean legs down halls of his sleep,
desire to drink and sup at mahogany's mass.
His wishes weight his belly. Love holds him here,
love nails him to the world, this windy wood,
as to a cross. Oh, this lanky, sunburnt cross!

Is he sympathetic? Do you care?
And you, sir: perhaps you wish to feed
on your bright-eyed daughter, on your baseball glove,
on your outboard motor's pattern in the water.
Some love weights your walking in the world;
some love molds you heavier than air.

Look at the world, where vegetation spreads
and peoples air with weights of green desire.
Crosses grow as trees and grasses everywhere,
writing in wood and leaf and flower and spore,
marking the map, "Some man loved here;
and one loved something here; and here; and here."

All I can say is, "go Annie!" This is one well-crafted poem, and she seems to do it with ease, grace, and insight. She is absolutely singular in her writing style; truly, no one puts pen to paper like Annie Dillard. Her subject matter alternately fascinates & inspires me; although often I find myself completely creeped out by some insect or reptile with which she is enamored, and describing in great detail. Never a dull moment with old Annie, if it's not total eclipses in Washington state, it's ice floes around the Arctic Circle, praying mantis egg sacks, hung in the crook of tall grass stems, or gorgeous childhood reflections growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950's. If you've never read anything by Annie Dillard, I recommend beginning with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1975. I really like her prose, as well as a lot of her suppositions about God, man and beast...... I've been wanting to post this poem for a long time. I read it to the Monday Poets Society months ago and then loaned the book to the Molly. It's been in my head ever since, and I've been unable to read much poetry because of it. Hopefully this has been a cathartic Poetry Archive post, and now, hopefully, I can move on.


Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Just beautiful. I'm an Annie Dillard fan too. Also love G.K. Chesterton. I put one of his poems on my last blog post.~~Dee

rosa said...

I know. When I found this poem, with one of my favorite writers trumping another favorite writer, my head almost exploded!

Jon said...

i've read four or five dillard books and this is not one. an american childhood left a mediocre tast in my mouth. i had heard that this book was similiar in it's pace. perhaps it's not good for a non-garden admirer like myself. well, i admire gardens. but not as you do.

rosa said...

It's interesting because I've noticed that the first book of a particular author that I read ends up flavoring my perception of that author's style/genre,etc. My first book was 'Pilgrim', and I garnered so much from it, that it's easy for me to assume that Dillard is primarily a "naturalist" sort of writer, but other books of hers disprove this... My first book of Macdonald's was The Wise Woman, and how I view him as an author would be much different had I started with some of his romancey adult novels (I have some friends who love these and have no interest at all in his fantasy!)

I admit to not finishing
'Childhood', & I agree that it's not her strongest. I have read outtakes from Holy the Firm & The Living, but all have been hair-raising, in one sense or another. Do you suggest something else of hers to ruminate on?

Anonymous said...

"Some man LOVED here." Please get it right. Thank you- loved your post.

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.