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Troy Jollimore: California Poets Part 5, Four Poems

Troy Jollimore (photo by Brett Hall Jones)

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Troy Jollimore

Four Poems

THAT LIFE And did you think that life (that begins like a fire and consumes and did you think that life (it unites you with beasts, you hold it in common that life (given to you freely, but in what dream would you have pursued it has been a series of standard answers (you put on your shoes and walked to expected questions (to the city where they said the oracle was and did you think that life (there is only one, despite the lies of the elders has haunted you like a lost child (I mean wolves, yes, but also insects and clams and are you being dramatic (I know you would deny it but you are dancing or are you (a space is opening up on the inside, that’s where the world is parsing the words of the oracle (where the world goes, and yes you are dancing and a space opens up on the inside of the world (yes that’s where you go and you go (and a space opens up, and the oracle falls into silence like a child (there is only one, you fall silent, you fall silent then you go to the city (where the fire and the beasts are, and the city falls into silence and did you think that life? (and did you think that, life? (from Earthly Delights, 2021)

ON BIRDSONG Poison, in proportion, is medicinal. Medicine, ill-meted, can be terminal. Brute noise, deftly repeated, becomes musical. An exit viewed from elsewhere is an entrance. The conjuror entrances a vast audience. The hymn that’s resurrected from the hymnal aspires, as we wish to, to the spiritual, but is slow to disentangle from the sensual. The evening light, refracted, terminates the day. (A faction is a fraction of an integral.) What would we say to the cardinal or jay, given wings that could mimic their velocities? How many wintery ferocities are encompassed in their shrill inhuman canticles? (from Syllabus of Errors, 2015)

THE SOLIPSIST Don’t be misled: that sea-song you hear when the shell’s at your ear? It’s all in your head. That primordial tide— the slurp and salt-slosh of the brain’s briny wash— is on the inside. Truth be told, the whole place, everything that the eye can take in, to the sky and beyond into space, lives inside of your skull. When you set your sad head down on Procrustes’ bed, you lay down the whole universe. You recline on the pillow: the cosmos grows dim. The soft ghost in the squishy machine, which the world is, retires. Someday it will expire. Then all will go silent and dark. For the moment, however, the black- ness is just temporary. The planet you carry will shortly swing back from the far nether regions. And life will continue— but only within you. Which raises a question that comes up again and again, as to why God would make ear and eye to face outward, not in? (from At Lake Scugog, 2011)

TROUT QUINTET 1 Where water meets water, where rain hangs lead-heavy for days before finally deciding to harden and fall, where the nearest road is sixty miles away and that a narrow track of gravel, where the lake is as still as a photograph and has never been photographed, where the trout return in accordance with a schedule that is not a human schedule, following a water- ridden brain-map, a hardwired river route, an instinct chart, Tom Thomson sits in a canoe playing solitaire. Each time he loses, he throws his cards into the water. Each time he wins he catches a trout. 2 He likes this place because the satellites cannot see it and the water is pure. He likes this place because it is where the trout come, where they stop. He likes this place because parsley and wild tomatoes grow naturally on the banks. He likes the way his canoe fits the water. He likes the way the water fits the earth Is Tom Thomson a figure of legend? Tom Thomson is a living totem pole. Is Tom Thomson larger than life? Four men could stand in Tom Thomson's s smoking cigars and talking about baseball. One night four men came for him carrying official papers and sawed-off shot A week later their Chevy Suburban was found. The motor was running. The left turn indicator blinking. The glove box was filled with trout. 3 There is much joy to be found in the imprecise usage of words. Tom Thomson disagrees. He slams his bottle down on the wooden table. The wood, anticipating the bottle's arrival, splinters in advance. Who would call a trout a salmon? But words are arbitrary. Who would call a trout an iceberg? Call it what you want, it will not come. Tom Thomson's grunt clears the forest of birds. His laughter frightens the gods. The philosopher Pythagoras devised a method of measuring Tom Thomson by taking the length of his shadow at that moment when the shadow of an ordinary man was as long as the man was tall. Tom Thomson snorts at philosophers. He has never touched a tape measure. He eyeballs every measurement, and is astoundingly accurate. He measures once, cuts once. He speaks seven languages. He has perfect pitch. 4 A hesitant breeze brings mist from the north. The location of the sun during the past three days is a matter of some controversy. The lake is stiffening with trout. They are pouring in from all over. The sound of a paddle entering and pushing the water aside slowly corrupts the silence. Tom Thomson stops, lets go the paddle, reaches over the side and makes a secret mark on a rock. The mark indicates that this is a place Tom Thomson has been, and will come to again. Have you ever seen a man murdered? Once. I saw it in a mirror. And did he remind you of your father? I can't answer that question. Nor any other. 5 Tom Thomson likes to pull a trout from the water and fry it up with parsley and wild tomatoes. The recipe is from his favorite restaurant on Yonge Street in Toronto. Tom Thomson eats there once a year. He does not need a reservation. He has left a secret mark upon the door. What is Tom Thomson’s secret mark? What does it look like? I can't tell you. Come on. Let me tell you something: the trout that come to the place where water meets are the same trout every year. They are not born. They do not die. Impossible. All I can do is tell you. What of the sign. Can you give me a hint? I already have. Tell me something. Is that Tom Thomson playing the piano? That is not Tom Thomson playing the piano. Tom Thomson plays no instrument. He does not sing. He knows no poetry. He can't even read. Tom Thomson spends each night alone, listening to the phonograph, looking at old family photos. Or so they say. (from Tom Tomson in Purgatory, 2006)

Author Bio:

Troy Jollimore’s first book of poetry, Tom Thomson in Purgatory, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in 2006. His third book, Syllabus of Errors (2015), was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best poetry books of 2015. His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, Conjunctions, Poetry, The Believer, McSweeney’s, the Kenyon Review, and Best American Poetry 2020. He makes his living as a professor of philosophy, and as a philosopher is the author of Love’s Vision (Princeton University Press, 2011) and On Loyalty (Routledge, 2012). He has received fellowships from the Stanford Humanities Center, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Guggenheim foundation. His most recent collection of poems, Earthly Delights, was published by Princeton University Press in 2021.


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