Tuesday, June 16, 2015

#167 Henry's Mail

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One’s mail is often full of the most dreadful stuff—junk, of course, bills, and I’m lucky enough to have almost totally avoided courts and lawyers in my life so far, but I’ve heard they can fill the box with some pretty dreadful business too. The first stanza is a confessional list of the kind of crap that arrives in the mailbox, and it’s ironic and funny. “his insurance firms / are rich with info enigmatic.” This is followed by a wish that the mail would come three or four times a day, like it used to do in pre-telephone London and Paris, and still did (apparently) in Togo in the 1960s, and did in his boyhood Oklahoma. Is this ironic? Oh yes. Then the poem ends with this: “I dote on my mail: I need its bung: / and the postman may indeed follow the moon and the sun / but believe me he fellows not Henry.” “Bung” is the hole in the side of a barrel, and the other actual definition that follows from the first—the anus—is pretty clearly the one B. is referring to. Then the pun on “follows” and “fellows”. The guy is not happy with his mail, and the whole thing is pretty funny in the typical bitter mode of The Dream Songs.

I’ve referred only on occasion to my student poems from back in college days, because this for the most part is meant to be a creative and forward-looking project, but this one is so apt, and it’s one of my favorites from back in the day, that I think I’ll go ahead and share it. From an undergraduate Creative Writing Workshop, probably about 1984, Don Bogen the professor, and I remember that he liked it a lot. I remember deliberately choosing flat diction and flat, end-stopped lines. I was living at the time in a barnlike Victorian shotgun with a tottering chimney, and I was dreading the mail.

Old Chimney

Crumbs of soft mortar and brick bits
      litter the walk beneath the old chimney.
It drops pieces with each January rain,
      and might fall in a stiff wind.
Trickles of decayed powder,
     light on sleeping cats.
The mailman brings bad news
     and leaves cold footprints in orange dust. 


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