I am on a prowl for poetry. I search for offset, italicized lines, not excited as one would presume, but an apprehensive, hesitant hunter. I feel, in advance, not that the poem will disappoint me, but that I will disappoint it.
This time I may be in luck. One-stanza poem by Wislawa Szymborska (NYRB, LVII, 17), that begins, So long as that woman from Rijksmuseum / In painted quiet and concentration/ keeps pouring milk day after day / from the pitcher to the bowl… Here I try to remember, faintly familiar mode of the image, Vermeer, it must be, because it is the title of the poem. But my memory is fickle. So I turn the computer on, and Google Vermeer images. Of course, there it is, the second image. Just as I thought I had remembered, a girl pouring milk. I try to get back into the poem / the World hasn’t earned / their world’s end. I wait, to feel something. Nothing. I’m not cultured enough.
I turn a few more pages. A whole article about a poet, Seamus Heaney, and I’m reviving my desire to be touched by a poem. The first lines I see… A rowan like a lipsticked girl / Between the by-road and the main road… A rowan? I go to my computer again, and Google rowan images. It’s a tree with red berry-like cluster. In my mind I thought it was a bird. Well, I can see it, a rowan like a lipsticked girl, that’s good. I can see it, but I feel nothing again. I skim through other stanzas here an there, like a choosy window-shopper, but again, all I see are words that I need to Google – kesh water, sphagnum moss, immortelles. I am not natured enough.
It almost makes me want to cry – the futility. I turn my computer off. I don’t want to Google image my poetry any more. But then, what do I do? Become more cultured, natured? Or give poetry up? And then I remember. This time I go to my bookshelf. Neruda. Naked, you are simple as a hand / Smooth, earthly, small… transparent, round / You have moon lines and apple paths; / Naked, you are slender as the wheat… I stop, and look around. My room is silent, the computer screen black, no longer panting for yet another thing to be looked up. I look back at the poem. Naked, you are tiny as your fingernail / Subtle and curved in the rose-colored dawn…, and I feel quiet, just the kind of quiet I was hoping for.
A relief - that for the uncultured, unnatured brutes like me, there still remains the final metaphor.