Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Nose Poem

For today's blog -- and in preparation for a longer post (long story!) coming up in the near future -- I typed up the following long poem, which my nearest and dearest (and perhaps a few of my former students) will recognize as a long - time favorite of mine.

For those who have not read it before, here is one of the best parables I have ever encountered on the topic of sacrifice and the price of experience. This man does not cut off his nose to spite his face. No, he does it to gain both the world and his soul.

from Desire, a Sequence (1977)
by Lee Perron, California Poet & Antiquarian Bookseller

there are so many innocent little things we want
with application and luck and a good nudge from the gods
we may have any of them

it's those gods -- they bestow all things upon you
and they do not ask for much in return
they will give you everything & they will ask back from you only
some small thing --
for instance, they might ask for your nose

come on, they say, why don't you just chuck it in
put it down the garbage disposal and as soon as it works its way
back into the earth we'll give you whatever you want
the deciduous idea! trees die for half the year & take all else in
the universe
-- i can hear what's going on in your mind: what, my nose? oh
no, not me, you must be thinking of some other guy
but you know, a man might do it
he might take a knife & cut a little deeper every day
and if by the second week he's still only through the skin and
hasn't really gotten to the bone yet
in that second week he decides to lob off the whole thing at once
and there he is with no nose
people laugh at him
but immediately the gods start bestowing their gifts
they give him patience & application
he learns how to do things right
slowly he grows in command of his will & intellect
and with these he acquires whatever he feels he needs:
a wife, lovers, respect in his community, a drum set
the capacity to drink limitless quantities of gin

but what is hard right from the start is that nose
he sighs often (through his mouth) and is heard to say
without my nose sometimes none of it seems to make sense
his friends show up and remind him of the cold hard facts of
his noseless life
they tell him to apply himself
and he's back at work again, gathering his desires

sometimes he wonders if he really had to go out & cut off his
nose just to learn how to get things
maybe he could have just gone out and gotten them
but no, he looks around & sees that no one with a nose has
anywhere near the things he does, not a tenth so much,
not a hundredth

whenever he takes a trip to one of those big medical cities --
boston, baltimore, houston, he'll go & talk to the medics
what can you do about this nose? he'll ask
what nose? they reply
he has learned to be earnest always: can you do anything about
getting me another one?
but when the doctors hear the circumstances
-- his confused early life,
his vow to the gods, the garbage disposal
-- they won't touch him with a ten foot pole

there are good years and bad
he goes through periods where he is a great complainer
what is the point of it, he says, if i have no nose?
his friends show up to console him
well at least you'll never have to rub your nose in your own
filth, they say
his friends become his tormentors
there is a long time he won't speak to anyone
night after night he dreams his nose has come back
each night it's the same shape, but a different size
somewhere along the line, tho, he stops fighting things so hard

there are always people to make jokes, even upon the wealthy & successful
he makes them himself in moments of despair
he will howl, every yes must have a no
but every ass must have a nose!
and on his tombstone the universal jester gets off a last good one:
an excellent man / got everything a man / could want; said yes
to all / but could have used more nose

so they laugh at him in the graveyard
but you listen, when that man died he had finally achieved every-

children, grandchildren, troops of friends
the warm feelings of all who knew him
earlier on concubines & no desire left unfulfilled
an animal park names in his honor
real progress in the field of cancer
a fully benevolent philosopher-king in charge of his country
universal justice prevailing throughout the land

at the end they hear him say
you know, if i had it to do all over again, i'd like to try it with
my nose the next time
and he dies
& it is nothing like the death of priam or macbeth
or any of those other simpletons
this man got everything


you have seen it perhaps
there is always the time the car stops
in front of the big white house
or gray house, or blue
it will not go any further with you
the car is stopped
and one of you must get out
and the other drive off
it is all that simple
-- do you think i am talking of love?

or you will be driving down a country road
and there are two sparrows
or buntings or bluebirds
and you hit one of these and it lies by the roadside
and its mate circles about chittering
and then sits on a fencepost
and sings something
this mate, perhaps, is inconsolable
please --
i am not talking about love

your mate dies, or parents
or one of your other friends
there is nothing fearful in the death
the deadman is not the problem
his letters perhaps
some phrase he spoke that rings every after
the way he died, what the surgeons did to his brain, or kidneys,
or heart
what you & he would have been doing now
next week, all summer long as you always did
the deadman did not die
your plans died
and this is what is so upsetting
this makes us so sick we cannot even think

i have seen all the trees
and the great views from mountains
the stars
the tiniest flowers within inches of my eye
but i have seen nothing more beautiful than human desire
in the country, the lawns just going purple with violets
we would have these violets and one particular friend
we have shattered the glazed bowl and make another
rounder, or less symmetrical, or with a plainer glaze
who could blame us? at sunset, we ask for wine
in white dawn we take coffee
we make lovely worlds more & more lovely
and then we see they are better simple
and then we make them simple
this desire is very much like song
our melodies everywhere about us
like butterflies, our desires hover about our heads and our hands

in this beauty
the car stops
the arm reaches for the doorhandle
and there is nothing left to it but the pulling up on the handle
there is away the eyes have of gazing intently downward
the legs slide onto the pavement
and one of your looks back through the car widow
you may touch one another's lips, or not
it hardly makes any difference, so beautiful is desire

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