Matthew Dickman goes for the last Round One spot.
Joy Harjo knows Rita Dove from their student days at Iowa, and she has two poems in Dove’s anthology. Harjo and Matthew Dickman, the celebrity twin, look to snare the last place in First Round play, as the West, and now all four brackets, are decided.
Harjo brings a short poem from the Penguin anthology:
MY HOUSE IS THE RED EARTH
My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world. I’ve heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it, for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, that fool crow, picking through trash near the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy strips of fat. Just ask him. He doesn’t have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter—he perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.
OK, one is tempted to say, your house is the red earth; yea, sure. And I’ll ask the crow. About what, again? And he laughs. Sure. Whatever you say.
Marla Muse: This poem seems to be coming from some sacred place that I just can’t get with.
Paris, New York…it’s a rejection of centrality—
Marla Muse: Sure, it’s easy to see what the poem is saying. I just don’t think it’s a good poem.
Because of what it’s saying?
Marla Muse: What it’s saying and how it’s saying it.
Let’s see what Matthew Dickman brings to the contest:
The skinny girl walking arm-in-arm
with her little sister
is wearing a shirt that says
TALK NERDY TO ME
and I want to,
I want to put my bag of groceries down
beside the fire hydrant
and whisper something in her ear about long division.
I want to stand behind her and run
a single finger down her spine
while she tells me about all her correlatives.
Maybe she’ll moan a little
when I tell her that x equals negative-b
plus or minus the square root
of b-squared minus 4(a)(c) all over
2a. I have my hopes.
I could show her my comic books
and Play Station. We could pull out
my old D&D cards
and sit in the basement with a candle lit.
I know enough about Dr. Who
and the Star Fleet Enterprise
to get her shirt off, to unbutton her jeans.
We could work out String Theory
all over her bedroom.
We could bend space together.
But maybe that’s not what she’s asking.
The world’s been talking dirty
ever since she’s had the ears to listen.
It’s been talking sleazy to all of us
and there’s nothing about the hydrogen bomb
that makes me want to wear a cock ring
or do it in the kitchen while a pot of water boils.
Maybe, with her shoulders slouched
the way they are and her long hair
covering so much of her face,
she’s asking, simply, to be considered
something more than a wild night, a tight
curl of pubic hair, the pink,
complicated, structures of nipples.
Maybe she wants to be measured beyond
the teaspoon shadow of the anus
and the sweet mollusk of the tongue,
beyond the equation of limbs and seen
as a complete absolute.
And maybe this is not a giant leap
into the science of compassion, but it’s something.
So when I pass her
I do exactly what she has asked of me,
I raise my right hand and make a V
the way Vulcans do when they wish someone well,
hoping she gets what she wants, even
if it has to be in a galaxy far away.
OK, why not? This reminds me of a Billy Collins poem. Dickman’s poem has definite parts—which are coherent within an overriding theme—and it’s amusing. It seems we ought to expect a poem to deliver the goods this way every time, right? At least this much ought to be expected.
Matthew Dickman gives us a night of stand-up comedy with a free drink, or two. Joy Harjo gives us a lecture about what we ought to like, and no free drinks.
Who do you think should win?
Is there any high-brow consideration that can save Joy Harjo? Any at all? We are told the crow is laughing. Will that do it?
Dickman 88, Harjo 67