Dionisio Martinez has written a poem which has the same title as a poem by TS Eliot (posted on this blog on November 19th 2014). And the two poems do have some similarities, both using a kind of stream of consciousness, connecting and interpreting impressions of the outside world, connections which can become disturbing or overblown, hence the poems’ title “Hysteria”.
The connections in Martinez’s poem range from the eminent Chicago poet Carl Sandburg to the windy city itself, plastic surgery, baseball, American newspapers and Tiananmen Square. That could indeed be a sign of hysteria, but somehow it works.
BY DIONISIO D. MARTÍNEZ
For Ana Menendez
It only takes one night with the wind on its knees
to imagine Carl Sandburg unfolding
a map of Chicago, puzzled, then walking the wrong way.
The lines on his face are hard to read. I alternate
between the tv, where a plastic surgeon is claiming
that every facial expression causes wrinkles, and
the newspaper. I picture the surgeon reading the lines
on Sandburg’s face, lines that would’ve made more sense
if the poet had been, say, a tree growing
in a wind orchard. Maybe he simply smiled too much.
I’m reading about the All-Star game, thinking
that maybe Sandburg saw the White Sox of 1919.
. . .
I love American newspapers, the way each section
is folded independently and believes it owns
the world. There’s this brief item in the inter-
national pages: the Chinese government has posted
signs in Tiananmen Square, forbidding laughter.
I’m sure the plastic surgeon would approve, he’d say
the Chinese will look young much longer, their faces
unnaturally smooth, but what I see (although
no photograph accompanies the story) is laughter
bursting inside them. I go back to the sports section
and a closeup of a rookie in mid-swing, his face
keeping all the wrong emotions in check.
. . .
When I read I bite my lower lip, a habit
the plastic surgeon would probably call
cosmetic heresy because it accelerates the aging
process. I think of Carl Sandburg and the White Sox;
I think of wind in Tiananmen Square, how a country
deprived of laughter ages invisibly; I think
of the Great Walls of North America, each of them
a grip on some outfield like a rookie’s hands
around a bat when the wind is against him; I bite
my lower lip again; I want to learn
to think in American, to believe that a headline
is a fact and all stories are suspect.
The first stanza takes us through one set of connections – the wind, Sandburg, plastic surgery, the newspaper, baseball. Each transition makes sense, but somehow the whole is absurd, just perhaps as the random connections of life itself are absurd, however much we try and make sense of them.
The second stanza takes up one element of the chain, newspapers, and then takes it on to Tiananmen square, links that back to plastic surgery, and then jumps to baseball, but through a different angle than the baseball reference in the first stanza. So there is variation within themes as well as across themes.
The third stanza brings it all back together, leading with plastic surgery, rapidly scrolling through Sandburg, baseball, Tiananmen Square, baseball again and finishing up with newspapers.
I wonder if the throw away final concept, “a headline is a fact and all stories are suspect” is supposed to be applied to the title and body of this poem.
The Poetry Dude