Composed of Bones & Bells
Daniel Simko:: The Arrival
Let’s not be morbid. The Arrival brings good news. It is a dead letter that has been recovered. Simko’s declarations of love are an open invitation; the recipient is you if you choose to read it. I did.
Some poets leave behind their book as a memento mori to gather dust on the shelf except when they don’t. The Arrival is composed of these bones and bells. Simko uses gloves, shirts, and old photographs the way visual artists once used skeletons and hour-glasses to signify tangible absence and transience. What is an empty glove but the assertion of a missing hand? And this is good news. In the poem “Afterwards” Simko writes:
It doesn’t really matter where you are.
It doesn’t really matter.
What can you say to that?
Simply, that you haven’t arrived anywhere.
your destination, unknown.
Only then are you among the living.
And so The Arrival is a dead letter, but one that celebrates the mystery of living.
More than half of The Arrival is considered finished poems. The second part contains fragments, abandoned verses and one poem misattributed to Simko. However, what may be said of an abandoned poem once it is found? Perhaps the whole book is a collection of unfinished statements. They are the kind of poems that could be unbound and dispersed through the U.S. postal system.
In “Deposition” we get a speaker trying to account for himself. “Yes, I know. It seems I have been talking a long time/ without making much sense.” Evidence of a struggle, a photograph, an allusion to a rude joke leads the speaker to admit, “[a]s for the address, there is none.” But then the last two lines reveal the true circumstance. “What was I saying?// All right, continue.” The confession is re-oriented at the end to show that the speaker of “Deposition” is not conducting the deposition; rather, he is being deposed. The sense of time that would lead one to assume this poem to be a fragment of a longer monologue is actually a brief interruption in the normal course of things.
Simko’s poetry is generally devoid of these kinds of tricks, but in this case we see the temporal character of his lyric. The poet is interrupting the ordinary business, grasping for the elements of his prior experience that immediately comes to mind as being important, and inevitably silenced by the resumption of the ordinary proceedings.
It is tempting to expound on Simko’s role as a political tragedy, an émigré experience of being irrevocably lost between two identities and burdened with a past that he had little influence over. As a lyric poet, he might make use of these conditions, but to make them into a fundamental of his poetry would be out of proportion and mythologizing. After all, the singleness suffered is not exclusive to the fronts of bygone wars and their aftermath. We take Simko’s lyric mode to be an answer to his condition, not a symptom of it.
In the poem “Far” the first word is “Bells,” their sound approaches from a distance, over a darkened topography while the North Star shies away. The Danube bridge, poplars, spruce, and a distant childhood appear in the following lines. And then Simko declares:
I have come to love this city, this one thing
I could not keep.
The groves and vineyards that forgive me for leaving,
and the people who do not.
Every material aspect remains true and loveable, worth naming in the poem even though they remain distant and unguided by the Polaris star. The sound of bells in memory that have shaped the poem offer it up to be loved without reaching for a resolution. Simko imbues his memento mori with negative capability, as in the line from the same poem, “[a]nd if this is a poem of childhood,/ then it is also the darkness within a glove”. The absence is never resolved with the fantasy that would plug holes. The darkness that fills a glove is the generative space of the poem.
Or in a trumpet, that the man playing the circus all night
finally puts down.
He had been unable to push it out.
Until he turns into music.
Once the trumpet is set aside, the player can pass through its instrumentation.
Simko envisions the lyric experience as a transformation. His is a poetics of miraculous turning into music, not to compose it. He makes clear that this “poem of childhood” is not a poem about his childhood. It is the darkness which actually fills the glove and passes through the trumpet. A darkness, also, that requires no illumination. Rather it is the condition; the poem is the occasion, and the poet a mere passerby.
Daniel Simko:: The Arrival:: Four Way Books