Some poems get made out of clarities of seeing, some out of invention and surprise. Dean Young, in his fourth and newest book, First Course in Turbulence (Univ. of Pittsburgh), is one of the poets of invention and surprise. Here's what seems to be a love poem:
I do not understand why I love you.
The mustard in your hair? Your breasts
like shiny battleships, your thought control?
Reasons seem so insufficient, reason itself
seems insufficient. The sea rushes up
to the beach of no reason, inveigling
chimes for no reason, greenery recumbent
upon the landscape of no reason.
Within the mountain is a valley, within
the blue sky a red one. I don't understand
the weather although I am heavy thralled.
Scraping the windshield made me late, fog
makes me first, cloud shaped like Africa
and I never arrive. Lightning must be
very quick to do its job, otherwise
it'd illumine nothing, pound no chest,
put no lips to unbreathing mouths.
There is an inner weather and an outer weather.
Within the seed is the hundred-year-old tree.
Within the eye is an arrow, the heart a storm
while outside it's warm and bony.
It is a mistake to think
everything is inside one's head. Always
darkness somewhere, giraffes with blue
tongues and who could have thought of that?
Opals dissolve in ordinary water, being
part water themselves. When inside the opal,
I often dream I'm swimming, when inside
you, I'm a flood. When inside the jail cell,
I wasn't in full comprehension although
all seemed one clear instance of form
matched to function: lidless toilet
merged with a slab you can sit
or lie upon, floor with a drain somewhere
toward the middle, all one poured
stone unlike the butterfly.
The anvil must be very hard
to do its job but what flies off
isn't sparks, it's pomegranates,
peach blossoms, sharks, it's the beginning
of the world and we are not the hammer swung
but what's under. O my darling, last night
I woke with pain in my chest but
it is gone this morning.
There's a drawing of the author's on the jacket of the book. It looks like one of those inspired doodles by Paul Klee, like a loopy imaginary geometry struck by lightning, a slightly erotic, slightly sinister tangle of forms. It's very much like the feeling of his poems. Here's another, with the same sinuous dream-logic and a sudden, strangely magical conclusion:
The Invention of Heaven
The mind becomes a field of snow
but then the snow melts and dandelions
blink on and you can walk through them,
your trousers plastered with dew.
They're all waiting for you but first
here's a booth where you can win
a peacock feather for bursting a balloon,
a man in huge stripes shouting about
a boy who is half swan, the biggest
pig in the world. Then you will pass
tractors pulling other tractors,
trees snagged with bright wrappers
and then you will come to a river
and then you will wash your face.
"Mortal Poem" and "The Invention of Heaven" are from "First Course in Turbulence" by Dean Young, 1999.
Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.