POET'S CHOICE By Robert Pinsky

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, January 29, 2006

Poetry gives us the rages, transformations and rapes of Ovid and the scornful, engaging melancholies of Baudelaire. It is an art made not with special materials or tools, but with something people use all day: language. Because it is free to use our strangest dreams as well as our most humdrum doings, our noblest yearnings as well our meanest fantasies, poetry is also free to combine them. It shows us how the weird and the ordinary are often not distinct but inseparably braided together. It also reminds us that our imagination is working all the time -- often unacknowledged or unnoticed, tucked away by shame or an earnest, falsifying surface.

One kind of poetry lives in that borderland between the ordinary and the dreamy, the banal and the mysterious, the grandiose and the squalid. That is the territory Stephen Dobyns has mastered. Here is "Alligator Dark" from his recent book Mystery, So Long .

Alligator dark

Stiff as a fireman's spray, his urine smacks

into the toilet bowl to spatter against

the two-inch remnant of a cigarette, either

a Camel or Lucky Strike both of which

his parents smoke. Perhaps he is eight.

A chaste delight in this pre-filter era

before Freudian notions could for him

ruin the simplest of pleasures. The butt's

lipstick-reddened tip bleeds into the murk --

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