This is one of the first poems my first girlfriend -- first of two, I should add -- Annalee wrote to me, for me. You can tell how early it is in the relationship, because she still calls me "Charles." It only took her a couple weeks to reclaim my childhood name of "Charlie" for me. I'd date it early September, 1987.
Annalee had a way of focusing her attention on her desire of the moment that was hard to ward off. As inexperienced as I was, I had no chance of resisting.
But I'm glad, because I wouldn't be here right now if I had blunted the force of her words with armor developed in previous romances.
I had so little positive sense of self when I met her, so little imagery at my disposal that her language became "me" to an extent I now find difficult to comprehend. Although returning to this poem after so many years was painfully intense, I now feel restored:
TO A CHARLES THAT READS IBSENThere is a handwritten note appended to the poem:
You are a balking animal,
huge and unsure of your feet.
You are horse-hearted.
Somewhere you are galloping,
but here you lumber like a draft-horse.
Each foot-fall is like the clopping of hooves,
steady and measured upon any surface.
It seems that you are domesticated,
but in your lit eyes I can see
a bit clenched between your casual teeth.
How can your plodding, deliberate soul be so free?
The narrow bar upon my tongue
rips at the edges of my mouth;
it makes my lips bleed and froth.
I scream like a half-crazed wild beast,
I buck and kick and send dust in all directions,
but my head is in the bridle
and I am
This is a bad poem, so just don't think that I normally write like this. I mean, the stuff about you probably isn't even true. Bist du beeindruckt? I remembered.The irony is that her words were addressed to a void. They weren't "true" or "not true," because there wasn't anything to measure them against. I incorporated them and made them the truth of my existence, without even realizing it.
The Circus Poet
I'm not sure why she felt it necessary to qualify the poem with the self-deprecating note. She was probably unsure of how I would react to the characterization.
Reading the poem again, as I typed it in, I'm struck by the slippage from second to first person.
How thoroughly is the speaker identifying with the "horse-hearted" addressee?
Am I to suppose that Annalee herself -- yes, I'm going to lapse into straight biographical criticism -- felt herself to be more "tame" than me, even though she made more of a fuss about the metaphoric bit in her mouth?
I still like the idea of plodding freedom a lot, even though I have a hard time remembering what it was like to feel free.