Except when I don’t. During a discussion about Jackson MacLow on the Poetics listserv the other day, Nick Piombino posted the following, “I had the feeling he [MacLow] was talking about going to museums and art galleries or even movies and overhearing conversations where reactions often seem to neglect time for fully absorbing and encompassing an experience. This leads into my recent preoccupation with the positive side of ambivalence. The ability to tolerate ambivalence, or ambiguity, can create an opportunity to wonder, to wander, daydream, to think, to puzzle or figure things out. Full circle: isn’t this often what is wanted from artistic experience in the first place?”
This predilection for ambivalence and the ambiguous (what’s the word for more than two optional reads?) holds special significance for me. I feel like I’m regularly ambivalent, that it may be my most “stable” or steady underlying condition; in fact, I’m fairly sure I seek the condition out and inhabit it, in my head at least, intentionally. Of course, I’m speaking in the abstract; ask me if I want the war to end… there can be certainty too.
Anyway, surely I’m not alone. Security is so desperately and regularly fashioned in our culture; hell, it’s the false-bottom premise of the fast-fading American Dream! Maybe we should consider other options? Why not start identifying & acknowledging the ambivalences, embrace and inhabit them? But I rarely hear someone actually celebrate the condition of ambivalence aloud, except through poetry, and even there, it’s often resisted. The poetry that pulls me is the poetry of the former, not that I can’t appreciate the latter!
Coincidentally enough, last night I was looking through a few issues of Court Green that David Trinidad gave me at AWP recently. I came across this very lovely poem that isn’t “lovely” in the traditional sense, but certainly is for me because it plays with those ambivalences, adjusting, measuring, contradicting, searching, and ultimately, enjoying. Of course, those who know my work will appreciate that the subject matter(s) bowl right up my alley. May you find some new pleasure therein.
In a bathroom with little girls,
I sewed thick black ribbon into my skin,
a corset from the middle of my breasts down
to my belly button. Cuts like stitches.
When I pulled it–it burned it felt
like erotic pain–I couldn’t remove
the entire thing before I had to leave.
I put my dress back on and went to a town
municipal meeting about money.
When everyone began joking around,
I slipped out and went to another bathroom.
A homeless woman walked out whistling–
all gray hair and dirty gray sweatshirt–
saying she was happy and I thought
because she had access to a bathroom.
I had a “date” and had to hurry.
I didn’t want the bathroom after
the homeless woman because I was afraid
of catching disease. I tried to use the toilet,
but it was too high. I couldn’t reach it.
The homeless woman came back
and I let her in. I pulled my dress off
to get the rest of the ribbon out.
She looked at me with disgust. I said,
“Don’t judge me. I didn’t judge you.”
I left my shoes outside
of the bathroom while I changed
and they got stolen. The woman who ran
the building gave me two mismatched blue
shoes: one too big and one too small.
I put them on to meet my “date.”
He asked about the shoes and I lied,
afraid that he would think
I was poor. I pulled him
into vintage shops to look for my old shoes.
I never found them.