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.