Poetry / Michael Collier
:: Boom Boom ::
I leave my back yard and enter the alley in search of my poetry. I get lost a few houses down near the Eldridge’s because all the fences and trashcans are identical. I am alone, filling a shirt pocket with the bees David Hills eviscerates by pulling out their stingers and which he has lined up on a flap torn from a cardboard box that’s pinned to the ground with four small stones. In a tool box, I have a small hammer and screw drivers for taking things apart. Above me is the sky that is always blue. (This means at night the stars are what I see but can’t count.) The alley is dirt. My shoes scuff its uneven surface. Suddenly a door opens, a dog barks, it’s Boom Boom, a Chihuahua, not even a dog in my mind. It rushes its side of the fence, so much louder and fiercer than it needs to be. After a while it stops. Now it sounds like a tambourine because of its collar with tiny bells. Passion flowers grow in a thick vine over Boom Boom’s fence. I have been told the leaves of these flowers are the lances that pierced Jesus’s chest and broke his legs. Boom Boom is whimpering, lying down near a place in the fence through which I squeeze my hand to touch his nose. “Boom Boom,” I say, very quietly, “I love you. You are the only one who understands me.” Afterwards, I feel very small and very large, restrained and freed, and certain there is a purpose to life beyond the one I’ve been given.
From the writer
:: Account ::
“Boom Boom,” which was originally titled “After Neruda,” began in response to a passage, translated by John Felstiner from Pablo Neruda’s essay, “Childhood and Poetry” (Infancia y Poesía). Felstiner writes, “I go out in the country in search of my poetry.” (Yo me voy por el campo en busca de mi poesía.) “I get lost around Ñielol hill.” (Me pierdo en el cerro Ñielol.) Reading these lines, I was transported back to the scruffy alley in Phoenix, Arizona, behind the house I grew up in, which was my country of discovery, a kind of wilderness in contrast to the postage stamp front yards—two mulberry trees apiece—that faced the street. The street welcomed, and even demanded, a social and external version of the self, while the alley invited and cultivated an interior and private version. But this explanation or schema of experience is less important to me than the door or window that opened when I read Felstiner’s translation and through which I returned to the earliest country of my poetry. It also reminded me that while we might be called to poetry as a vocation, we must keep looking for it. Poetry begins and continues in acts of discovery. (The fact that my own acts of discovery in my seventh decade are now often through poets I have been reading for many years is another topic. Those poets and poems comprise alleys of memory that are rich and complex.) As for “Boom Boom’s” form, I took my cue from Neruda’s prose, which even in translation is rich with imagery and music.
Michael Collier is the author of seven collections of poetry including An Individual History (W. W. Norton & Co., 2012), a finalist for the Poet’s Prize, and The Ledge (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His most recent collection, My Bishop and Other Poems (University of Chicago Press), is forthcoming, fall 2018. He has published a translation of Euripides’s Medea, a collection of essays, Make Us Wave Back, and with Charles Baxter and Edward Hirsch, co-edited A William Maxwell Portrait. He is the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Maryland and is a former director of the Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences.