The bones of the poem are so fragile I’m afraid to speak. He read it too fast, almost breathless in trying to get it out of his voice box. I don’t really like it anyway, he says, hearing all the words I’m not saying. He scuffs his feet, stares out the window at the brown patchwork hill. I stare at my hands, troubled. Because I don’t think it’s a good poem, because I’m mad at myself that I don’t think it’s a good poem, because he keeps staring at the brown grass and his poem sits in front of us like winter, endless and unrelenting.
This class assignment might kill us both, I think. We’re here for another twenty minutes, here to workshop each other’s scattered verbs and nouns into something beautiful. We’re here to write on burning houses and shoes, on W.H. Auden’s death, on the conception of Christ (well, I’m the only one who thinks I should write a sonnet about that), on our first childhood memories. We’re here to string words together and slice them apart, to fall in love with the sound of “essence” and “lithe” and the harsh consonants in “declaration” and “capture”. I think I hate poetry, sitting next to him. He strung his words in careless stanzas, some things falling off the page, others so close together you can barely hear each word. I think I hate poetry, and he is silent, scuffing his feet. He wears a brown vest over a plaid shirt with a limp collar. His black corduroys have been washed so many times they are grey now, frayed at the seems. I see his hands itching for his backpack, for a sketchbook to doodle in, for the obscure band I never know the name of to pull him into a different world.
I’ve never managed to be tactful when it comes to silence, so I plunge into it, my voice ringing against the cold winter windows. “Well, maybe we should read it out loud again. Maybe I’ll read it out loud, so you can hear what it sounds like?” He nods. He doesn’t care, really, and I don’t know why I want him to. It’s his poem, after all, not mine, and if he wants to throw it away, why should I care? I tell myself I don’t care. I tell myself I hate poetry and I should sit in this twenty minute silence.
“Stop the clocks.” That’s how it begins, I think. An ode to Auden, to the poem which was in mourning of another. And now this poem mourns the death of that poet, who mourned the death of someone I don’t know and might never know. I think I’m going to start crying, which makes even less sense than hating poetry, and so I keep reading.
But it’s there now: stop the clocks. The line, his line of poetry, the refrain. It’s in my gut now, in this cold winter with the black-turned-grey corduroys and the brown hill. He wrote a poem he doesn’t like, that is a mess on the page. He wrote a poem he doesn’t like that now sits inside me as permanent as even the most beautiful poem that any of them ever wrote. I hate poetry, I think. I can’t fight it. I can’t ignore it. He doesn’t even love his poem, and here I am, loving it helplessly, loving it because of the one line that is the Auden line and not the Auden line, loving it as a part of me. Here I am, reading a poem the poet doesn’t love, undone by his unloved poem.
I must have finished reading. I must have said things about the poem that he didn’t hear. We must have rejoined the group, said the usual things about poetry we weren’t qualified to say. We must have been given homework and sent on our way, into math or science or art. We must have mostly forgotten everything the way that humans always forget.
“Stop the clocks.”
I’m still undone.