The thought being, see, you can’t ever be in the same river twice. Though you may stand in the same wet space you stood before, water so obviously, rapidly, moves through a river that the lesson becomes apparent. You may plant your foot exactly where you’d previously, but nothing around remains.
This might be the same river, but it ain’t the same river at all.
A college professor of mine would amend this conclusion further. He would agree: yes, you can’t put your foot in the same river twice – then expound: nor can anyone put their same foot in the same river twice. Our own change may be overshadowed, juxtaposed against the crash and whitewater of a full river, but it is as much a matter of constance. Examining our inevitable volatility over time gives rise to uncomfortable considerations of mortality, perhaps. Life’s malleability may intimidate, but it is a boon.
Platitudes about change are manifold. Say something “change” might be. Say the opposite. Whatever you pick, the words will sound stale and trite on the tongue, already said. Change, as a word, can encapsulate or refer to nearly anything. Change is good – and bad. It can be hard, but it’ll get better. Sometimes change is “same shit, different day.” Sometimes it’s different shit, same day. Even when absolute, it is rare for change to completely devastate or renovate its object. Some vestiges of habit or routine often linger, pallid ghosts or tenacious underground structures too-engrained in our lives to completely disappear. When change comes, we remind ourselves of the new opportunities that it affords. “When one door shuts, another opens.” If not a door, a window. If not a window, perhaps a letter slot. Often, there is an irony to change: everyone seems to want it until it happens. Then, like spawning salmon, we struggle upstream against it.
As a loose and general principle humans do not seem fond of change. Pop psychiatrists and scientists both tell us we are creatures of habit, that our habits make us, so an aversion to change logically follows. Change represents, very often, the unknown. A mystery cannot be trusted. But imagine how boring, the undynamic life – how flat our plots and characters would be, static, inelectric. How impossible then, to write very much poetry.
Drama may be tiresome, uncomfortable, even irritable, but it entertains.
Fall, I think, summons these and such thoughts. To me, fall is the quintessential season of change. It is the season where we watch the world, in many ways, die. This conclusion proves especially unavoidable with a fall birthday, which forces me to acknowledge each year’s gradual passing abruptly, discretely, while around me the leaves and temperatures drop. I often establish yearly goals on my birthday, which are nothing but ways I’d like to direct life’s inherent change. Another irony: the attempt to control change, as it comes.
To commemorate fall’s commencement, I’ve chosen three poems that deal with change and subsequent transformations, in terms more express than general. I hope that you enjoy them.
I begin with Egor Letov’s “Optimism.” Although this poem’s ending is a little heavy-handed, I chose “Optimism” because it possesses an amount of the irony of change. The poem, also available as a song(Letov was both a poet and a musician, as well as an existentialist and nihilist), concerns itself with the ultimate change, death. It highlights the immediacy of mortality via duality. Each line of the first three stanzas begins with a specific life action and ends with an affirmation of death. Therein lies the irony: although the poem is, frankly, obsessed with the inevitable change that death represents, it is determinedly repetitive. It is as if the narrator is attempting to control these circumstances via emphasizing them – as if a constant awareness of death might help mitigate the pain of loss. As a result of this quirk I find “Optimism” worth consideration. On the other hand, I’d gloss over the final three lines. They don’t seem to further the poem effectively and at this point the repetition loses its force. While they attempt to subvert the poem by presenting its perspective as optimism, the title gives this attempt away, and the poem might improve sans its concluding tercet.
Although I might gripe about the formatting idiosyncrasies of Yehuda Amichai’s “A Pity, We Were Such A Good Invention,” only the capitalized lines, not the content of the poem, throw me off. It, too, deals with an inevitable change and subsequent loss. “Invention” discusses the departure of a loved one, less fatally than “Optimism.” In this case it appears that societal or outside pressures acted upon a seemingly-happy relationship to dismantle it. “Invention”’s narrator mourns these influences and their impact. However, it’s important to consider that a truly stable relationship should be able to withstand assault from the exterior world. I wonder if the narrator presents an idealistic view of something lost, which he did not wish to lose – but which, perhaps, the other party was more willing to leave behind. After all, the last line, “We even flew a little,” seems to imply that for a metaphorical airplane, the pair wasn’t terribly successful. Isn’t flight a minimum aeroplane requirement – its purpose? An airplane that flies “a little” is about as desirable as a driver who obeys red lights occasionally.
I left Jane Hirschfield’s “Changing Everything” for last because of the three, it is my favorite. Hirschfield injects this poem with great humor with her understated, defiant narrator. There’s a definite feeling that the narrator’s actions are really a reaction to some greater, uncontrollable change that occurs in the narrator’s life outside of the poem, and that the narrator acts as she does so that she may feel she has control over at least one thing in her life, albeit one rather small thing. The minutiae of the narrator’s act, contrasted with her bold statement that she has “changed everything,” cannot help but amuse. The narrator’s very demeanor, resolutely “cold” and heartless, demonstrates a belief that her single, minor action will devastate – but what? Whom? This is not clear. But the narrator would not so forcibly harden her heart while affecting change without some belief that said change would cause significant effect. This makes especial sense considered within the context of a narrator who is struggling with an unnamed change in a life outside of the poem’s moment. Overall, I find this poem wonderfully understated and funny.
Perhaps today I shall publish this post, and it will change everything. J
On the plate for next time: a discussion of line breaks in poetry.
P.S. An Honorable Mention for Change Poems goes to Jessica Poli’s “How to Change” in the current issue of Sixth Finch, which is a “how to” poem that generally defies most of the conventions of said format.