NOTES ON A LOST POEM
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
I was reading the story in Sunday's editions of The Age (an Australian daily) about the spreading fear of climatic and nuclear doom that now hangs over our era, and it reminded me of a poem I wrote back in 1981, one I worked very, very hard on and invested all of my self to write.
Around the same time, I wrote a story for the L.A. Weekly called "Notes On The End of the World," which was very hard to get them to publish. It mentioned global warming as seen then in the studies a UCLA astrophysicist I interviewed told me about, and it talked about the geomagnetic changes the Earth is undergoing more noticeably now. But the poem seemed to spell out a different and yet more drastic future.
I only remember a few lines of the poem, the one copy of which I lost like every really good thing I ever wrote - my first novel, "Revolution!," my best story for the Village Voice ("The Golden Cup," bought, borrowed back and left in a cab, unpuiblished), and another poem, "Approaching Buddhahood" ("I woke to smoke a rag I wouldn't burn" was the best line.).
What I do remember is that it was about being in the woods and coming upon a peaceful grove of trees, where I lie down and have a dream, and in it is a vision of my intestines spilling out, and of reaching into them to read the stones, like a Grecian oracle of old would reach into entrails of a chicken to read the stones that had stuck in its craw.
The few lines that follow, which I later abandoned, were the core of the poem but could not be tamed to the meter: In the end, I wrote a sonnet ("If you could see the things I only dream ..."), and used some of the imagery in two lines that weill serve as an introduction to the core of the lost pem:
And this was the core ofthe lost work:
And then, as though from the burned poem, as I wrote in another fragment as I strove to finish the work:
The vision ends, and I wrote in words like these, not precisely remembered:
I also remember the nest-to-last line:
So, I gave my heart to this poem, only to lose it, and today I carry its fragile but immensely meaningful pieces around. It tells me of a future Ice Age that somehow love prevents. if only temporarily. It speaks of a rage that blows time out of whack, "that drives the future back," and what remains of that - the burned poem - is a patch of black upon the brown."
It is not purely hopeful, but it tells me man survives. However, it also suggests to me we may end up accidentally changing our weather - ending the coming Ice Age - by blackening the Earth, as in a nuclear war:
Thank goodness I lost the poem, as I might be faced again and again with that vision as I look out upon a world where nuclear arms are spreading to the most unstable and excitable of nations.
As it turned out, I wrote another poem that is still with me, and it is more optimistic about, in the paraphrased words of Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha," "not what we are, but what we may become."
Here is the alternative poem that still exists, sans those untamed lines:
In the end, then, the world does not have to be a lost poem.
And yes, I also lost the girl. But I got to keep the poem.