The Problem by Richard Siken
A poem within my grasp last night, in my dreams. I struggled to rise; I must write it, I said. Awake, I grasp for words. For air.
The problem (if there was one) was simply a problem with the question. He wants to paint a bird, needs to, and the problem is why. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy, series or sequence, one foot after the other, but existentially why bother, what does it solve? Be the tree, solve for bird. What does that mean? It’s a problem of focus, it’s a problem of diligence, it’s supposed to be a grackle but it sort of got away from him. But why not let the colors do what they want, which is blend, which is kind of neighborly, if you think about it. Blackbird, he says. So be it. Indexed and normative. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? He does, but he’s not very good at it. And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Maybe if it was pretty, it would mean something. Maybe if it was beautiful it would be true. But it’s not, not beautiful, not true, not even realistic, more like a man in a birdsuit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible, unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the page is like looking out the window at a bird in your chest with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway because the hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart. Answer: be the heart. Answer: be the hand. Answer: be the bird. Answer: be the sky.