Poetry by Steve Benson
Never hear, never see
About two weeks ago after a nearly sleepless night I drove an hour from working at a public school in the hills to an appointment in the city with a doctor specializing in treating periodontal problems. I stopped for a haircut with a barber in the city whose shop I picked out of the yellow pages, because I’d had a lot of trouble finding time to get my hair cut the past few weeks. I’d sat waiting 15 minutes at a barbershop in a bigger town than mine the day before but had to leave, when it came clear I couldn’t meet my next appointment at my own office on time if I stayed long enough for a cut. This city barber was sitting alone in his shop with a radio program I’d never heard before haranguing about an appointed nominee’s withdrawal and how bizarre and sick Democrats must be to hate the President so virulently. I closed my eyes and got my hair cut. The periodontist told me I would need a graft from tissue on the roof of my mouth to where my gums had receded in front of roots of the upper lower teeth. It would not negatively affect my smile, but my palate would be irritated very painfully for a week, during which I was unlikely to speak much, even if I wore a retainer (which would be supplied at no cost) to protect it from contact with my tongue and food. She asked me if I ground my teeth and told me that, based on their physical appearance, she was certain that I regularly ground my teeth in sleep and might benefit from wearing a $25 mouth guard I could purchase at my local chain pharmacy, even though I thought I was only able to sleep with my mouth open. I realized, however, that I do tend and have for some years tended to click my teeth or rub them gently together when taking a walk and might hold them against each other in a firm but gentle bite at times of mild, thoughtful stress. Because my large teeth had grown off the front of thin and narrow jawbones, this must, she said, have been stressing them to loosen, while the gums had receded to secure them less and less. Since this visit I have tried to observe and listen for contact between my teeth when I am not eating and arrest every impulse toward their meeting. I associate this effort with increased anxiety, queasiness, feeling ungrounded, headaches, and a sadness—a sense of deprivation and loss, as of an intimate, trusted friend. Should I give up my teeth entirely, have them removed, and purchase dentures?
you can see
you can’t hear
a dead body
You think you’re so fine, doll, looking at yourself in the mirror every which way?
Suppose you were Psyche, the one everyone looks at, with only your own voice
to guide you through the truth. Nothing you know but what you have to say
in order to survive, not to be taken for something less than your knowing in emergence.
Suppose you then were caught up in the dusky fields of pleasure without measure,
dreaming awake, awakening to know the truth you’d dreamed, known not for your image
but your desire, your desire and another’s meeting, desire meeting wonder and satiation
so it becomes something essential, essential seeming or essential being, who knows?
This takes place, of course, only in the dark—not only no one else but you yourself
don’t see nothing. Don’t see own body, don’t see other body, don’t see normal,
don’t see weird, don’t see right, don’t see wrong, don’t see doing, don’t see being.
There you are, gone and all there, with him and way beyond all that’s ever claimed you
as its own. He makes no claim. He loves you. But comes to you always in the dark,
pitch black, blindness, so you never know him but through breath, skin’s touch,
heartbeat through the chest, accidental brush of nails, your fingers in his hair, his hands
in your pie, footfalls, smells, taste of tongue in mouth, his voice if not the words he says—
What do you know, now, sweetie, who knows it, and who on earth can you share it with?
Your sisters, sent you in the daylight, focus an image of him in their words, as monster,
taunt you with fears of being et alive, infant and all, convince you to retaliate
preemptively by candlelight, and so then shining your flame over him, you find that
he is beautiful (what they cursed you with back home), an immortal (the cheap rap
they laid on you ad infinitum), and beyond your reach (like they always found you)
as you pierce yourself with his arrow instead of breathing softly in his ear to blow away
the smell of snuffed wick. The light is killing, because you use it that way, to rob
yourself of you and him, as has everybody else, rather than letting yourself go.
11 24 2005
Steve Benson‘s writing appears as it is composed at http://media.sas.upenn.edu/