Week 5 of #PoetrySummer

Last week I memorized “Here, Bullet” by Brian Turner, and as typically happens I came away with a heightened appreciation for the poem. Brian Turner was a soldier in Iraq (and possibly Afghanistan; I forget his full bio), and wrote about his experiences in several poems, many of them grouped into his award-winning collection HERE, BULLET. I like a lot of the poems in the collection, but there’s a reason “Here, Bullet” is the one they named it after. It’s really excellent.

The first thing you notice is the title, which is daring and almost playful, like he was calling a dog. The poem begins with that same sense of daring, essentially calling out the bullet to come and get him. After that, though, the poem begins line by line to devalue the human life and body: he’s not a person, he’s “bone and gristle and flesh,” describing the processes of life not as a glorious whole but as a sum of mechanical facts. The middle section focuses even less on the body, seeing it only as the bullet sees it: an “adrenaline rush,” and a “puncture into heat and blood.” By the final section the body has become nothing but the other half of the gun–one throws the bullet, and one catches it–with both halves blending into each other.

And then you get the final line: “Because here, bullet, here is where the world ends, every time.” Not only is he recontextualizing the title (“here” no longer means “come here, little bullet” but “me, myself, the thing that is here”), but he gives back to the human life all of the glory he had taken away from it, and then some. A human death is not just a ceasing of mechanical processes, it’s the end of a world. The last two words, “every time,” are what make the entire poem work, because they make it clear that every human life is a world unto itself–that even though the bullet doesn’t end the entire world, it ends that one person’s entire world, and isn’t that just as bad? Putting a single death on the same level as the end of the world elevates the importance of that single life. It’s a tragic poem, but an uplifting one, and a very brave one. I love it.

Next week, if you recall, is our “Prufrock” week, and I hope one or two of you have decided to memorize it with us, but this week, pretty much on a whim, we decided to memorize poems in Spanish. I used to live in Mexico, so I’m fairly fluent (though not as fluent as I used to be) and I’ve read some excellent Spanish-language poetry. I’m not super well-read in the genre, though, so I’ve got good news and bad news: the bad news is, my choice is pretty obvious, both for poet and poem; the good news is, it’s one of the most beloved poets worldwide. I’m speaking, of course, of Pablo Neruda.

Pablo Neruda lived in Chile, where he was justifiably famous, and eventually came to worldwide attention in part because he was a political exile from one or more of the various military coups in the country. He’s a pretty popular character, too. In one of my favorite books, THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS by Isabel Allende, he is a background character known only as “the poet.” In the Italian movie Il Postino, he spends some of his exile on a small Italian island and helps his mailman woo the woman he loves. His readings, especially in his home country once they allowed him back in, would attract thousands of people, like a rock concert, and they would all listen intently for the Big One, the favorite poem that everyone loved, and when he finally started it the crowd would cheer loud enough to shake the rafters: “Puedo escribir los versos mas tristes esta noche….” the title more or less translates to “Tonight I can write the saddest lines,” and it comes from his wonderful collection TWENTY LOVE POEMS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR. Here is the full text in Spanish, though you can find a translation pretty easily if you poke around:

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Escribir, por ejemplo: “La noche está estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos.”
El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.
En las noches como esta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.
Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.
Oir la noche inmensa, más inmensa sin ella.
Y el verso cae al alma como al pasto el rocío.
Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guardarla.
La noche esta estrellada y ella no está conmigo.
Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos.
Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca.
Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo.
La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos árboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.
De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
Porque en noches como esta la tuve entre mis brazos,
mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Aunque este sea el ultimo dolor que ella me causa,
y estos sean los ultimos versos que yo le escribo.

That’s a long poem, and it’s not my first language, so it’s going to be hard, but honestly: we didn’t resolve to memorize a poem every week because we thought it would be easy, right? Faint heart ne’er won fair lady. Also, we finally sold Spanish rights to the John Cleaver books, so I feel like celebrating. Vamonos!

4 Responses to “Week 5 of #PoetrySummer”

  1. Wow. Yo no hablo espano (anymore).

    Lovely analysis of “Here, Bullet”. I think I do better with poetry when people explain it to me. Aren’t I pathetic?

    I’ll stick will Emily Dickenson (kindly stolen from Sarah Eden)


  2. Robin Weeks says:

    Dang. Profrock is next week? Gonna have to ponder. I’m SOOO tempted, but don’t wanna fail.

    This week I’m re-memorizing a poem oft-performed by my grandfather. Also, I issued my own challenge-in-challenge: everyone should memorize at least one poem that would make a good performance piece. Just in case you’re called upon to perform. :) http://robinweeks.blogspot.com/2011/06/poetry-summer-week-5-de-stove-pipe-hole.html

    Congrats on the Spanish rights to John Cleaver! Awesome!

  3. Wendy says:

    I recited one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets today, for week 5. I first read it as a teenager at my grandma’s house. It involves kissing.

    First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
    The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
    And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
    Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “Oh, list,”
    When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
    I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
    Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
    The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
    Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
    That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
    With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
    The third upon my lips was folded down
    In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
    I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.

    I feel like a disappointment, but after considerable thought (and as a result of inconsiderable forethought) I’ve decided to bow out of the Prufrock sub-challenge. I didn’t remember until this evening that its week was coming up, and I have a huge Harry Potter bash (a Hogsmeade bazaar, to be precise) to make ready for teens, tweens, and kids of all ages at work this week. (My job rocks. I work at a library.) I hate to make excuses, but that’s exactly what I’m doing, isn’t it? I wish all of you luck.

    And thanks again for starting this challenge. My poems haven’t been lengthy, but I’m gradually gaining faith in my own brain, which I’ve been known to slander these last few years.

  4. Rich Magahiz says:

    Hearing Brian Turner read his poem at the Dodge Poetry Festival a few years back was a memorable experience. Thank you for reminding me of this.

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