113.1: David Dodd Lee:: The Story & “The Soul as a Skiff” & Sad Flowers & Vocation 113

David Dodd Lee’s poetry is a medicine show of delirium and rude wit. His speakers engage the world like itinerant explorers, witnesses to its finest subterfuge and its ugliest wonder. “Sad Flowers” is a brilliant fusion of the speaker’s idiosyncrasy with a charming and beautiful eye for matter and meaning in Howard Hodgkin’s painting. “Here’s a blueprint of my pocket” the speaker says midway through the poem. This type of sincerity is what contemporary poetry needs. When the panoptic grey ocean of the Internet can relinquish a person’s net worth and life story in eight-hundred or so Google-hits, the bite implicit in this admission is refreshing. But Lee's speaker never comes off as heartless or as one who is impervious to beauty; rather, a lively sense of the mysteries of life keep his speakers moving. After this forfeiture of blueprints in “Sad Flowers,” the speaker continues:

   ...When my face was wrapped
   in muslin I could feel the dying animals, the places where they

      left salt
   in my brain. Child, camel, things burned: what memories of

   these will I bring with me out of the grave.

The world is always vanishing and dying around us, with us, and we are too busy doing God Knows What to notice. Any poem can call our attention to it and the world around us. Why else do we read poems? But Lee’s poems are not content announcing the former vestiges of a world beyond our reach. They are nervous, sad, delirious, funny, crude, and serious. How else does one sum up the end lines of a poem such as “The Soul as a Skiff” that acknowledges the transitory meaning of this life, a poem that both admonishes and praises our impermanence: “A cardinal standing on my lawn is swallowing / an emotional rabbit. It is not upsetting. The sun is shining on Baugo Bay.” Cody Todd

The Story

Tobias Wolff wrote this story called
“Say Yes,” and that kind of meaningful slick

  stuck anyway;
one by one, to accumulate companion animals;

to colonize, interpolated with the spaces in the
landscape; Barthelme’s “Margins” :

  the silver
bowl held a mixture of harmonious beans (You are

ultra-organized, artful; suffer egoism) . . . Hence the
handwriting all over the majority face; Carl leaning against

  the architect’s
building. One of the larger cats growled. She smelled good.

I didn’t bother anyone. The brown shadow, the white sun
so delicate on the emerging human feelings. It was like

  watering enthusiastic
patches of dampening hair. The hurricane remained outside

the city. Well you just poke at the inner mechanisms, Carl didn’t
say, though I thought it. Then I folded the letter. The sidewalks

  disappeared inside
the envelope. I held the stifled conversation in my pocket,

walked a block through snow, past Family Dollar, a boarded up church,
The Men’s Warehouse. I walked quickly, the story in my hand.

“The Soul as a Skiff”

(Michel Foucault)

Can I talk now? Step away from the gate—
animals, some striped, stream across old

warehouse windows. I am approaching, with a bent key,
a steel door in East Williamsburg. No, my

hair is not hot. It smells of psychotropics. I see
a small cottage, maybe there’s a tricycle

with red handlebars in front of it, boys and brown creepers
striding, laughing beyond the backlit mulberry groves,

wandering unborn in a goldenrod field. We’ll never wake
up alone. Hands cuffed behind one’s back. Edvard Munch’s

face melts against the blood-black sky,
or he’s shaking his head underwater while

the bathtub shares light; it burns her bones to blazing crystal.
I see a tiny white house—it’s not the castle I live in,

nobody’s shackled to the prow. It begins
raining in Wellesley. That was where I learned

my guardian angel is a liar. She called me Little Saint. She struck me
in the head with a wand made out of shallow ponds: first

I saw her feet naked, her legs, her wings folded. She said, My
breasts are not two fountains. Today my door facing the lake blows wide

open. A cardinal standing on my lawn is swallowing
an emotional rabbit. It is not upsetting. The sun is shining on Baugo Bay.

Sad Flowers

(after the Howard Hodgkin painting of the same name)

They’re back-shot, black blood; we get the noon re-
port. It’s divided into pieces—they aren’t out there. They

  curve over
the wires. Hello, death in Africa, to me in my underwear.

Here’s a blueprint of my pocket. When my face was wrapped
in muslin I could feel the dying animals, the places where they

  left salt
in my brain. Child, camel, things burned: what memories of

these will I bring with me out of the grave. Everyone has to
deal with lint. I pick the stuff off my aloe plant, it flows up

  out of
the baby’s mouth and she’s laughing like a dead Jazz Singer.


Day back once again,

Reminds me of the
Hotel rooms—
You know the hotel rooms—

You sit on your bed with a smile strapped to your face

A farm pig . . .

Perhaps wondering about sex

Or bedbugs

But let’s get ourselves far far away from all that


What’s the secret to sitting down?

(owning a stopwatch)

I still possess the ability to recognize the original fetal face in an adult human being . . .

What’s it mean to be wise, or right?