From and About Caruso for the Children, & Other Poems
Caruso for the Children, & Other Poems by William Dunlop "[Dunlop] is richly allusive, a gifted parodist, and often very funny.... His view of the world is about as jolly as that of, say, Thomas Hardy or Philip Larkin. Yet his bleakest visions are rendered with such technical elan that one rejoices with them at the simple pleasure of finding darkness made so wittily palpable in rhyme and meter."
Jonathan Raban
"Caruso for the Children, & Other Poems is an enduring book, vivid with wit and longing and sympathy."
Linda Bierds


  You wouldn't say that she "submitted." No,
  whatever prompted her was something new
  and docile not at all. Perhaps it had to do
  with the short turf, the white cliff edge, the slow
  cloud promenade, the surge and thud below

  as each fresh wave broke down. So, anyway,
  touch, tremor, nakedness all made good sense
  to her, quite suddenly, and down she lay
  and smiled, and helped him to forget the tense
  first panic, meeting not the least defense.

  And afterwards, she begged a cigarette,
  lazed on her back, and beamed back at the blue
  sky, blameless. He was dumb. More vehement yet
  the sea beat up against the cliffs, and threw
  its whopping slogs into a cave that drew

  the sinewed swell out of a foaming sleeve
  and sucked it in, tolike one heaving block
  of quartz—explode: boom hollowly; and leave
  in skittery files licksplittling through the rocks,
  till the next wave recruited them, and shocked

  itself to spume, finding passivity
  exceeded penetration. He watched (while she
  lay with her skirt around her hips, and smiled
  as at a dutiful, obliging child)
  and felt the strangest pity for the sea.


  Some—I believe it—find this most pleasing fiction
  the stuff of truth: a voice that pulses
  conveys the strains of spirit in excelsis,
  the full heart's purest diction;
  and when the strings squeal loudest, brass bombardment thunders,
  true love, they moan, and on that top note founder.

  I like it, too, but in a dubious fashion:
  great gulps of airs that I sup up inflate
  the body's currency; at such high rates,
  the poor heart pitches to contrary motions,
  churns blood to borscht, and canonizes hormones,
  and bellows bravos at its own performance.

  And so, my love, switch off that braggart tenor
  plighting his troth in full fidelity,
  that shrill soprano's billowing high sea
  of outrage offered her ambiguous honor—
  I love them both, indeed, but to distraction:
  your being here concerns my satisfaction.

  Love moves by subtler rhythms, and small sounds:
  a glass set down, clothes shucked, skins' conversation,
  duet of breaths—the orchestration's
  conventional enough, but it abounds
  in touches of a sheer felicity: catch
  in my voice; your chuckle; a struck match.


  is what you may call me, and welcome.
  Should I be ashamed
  that the trendy patter would place me
  in a pride of resonant names?
  Quadrangle, cloister, piazza,
  the marketplace—
  wherever men like to be serious, or need to
  develop a sensible space,
  they tend toward squares; of all games
  the purest is checkered:  giving
  reason to pastime, and logic its music, is,
  by definition, living.

  In a pure state of Nature,
  squares may not exist, but for man
  to shape his life by right angles
  is natural enough; he can
  neither improve upon Nature, nor live by
  her crazy directions. He may only create
  alternatives, ordered constructions,
  a pattern becoming his state.
  She squiggles and doodles, at best she
  describes perfect circles, like sun
  that warms the carved stone, illuminates squares that attest to
  the good sense of man.

  Some squares are more shapely than others:
  I hope to be one
  that gathers the sunlight, and offers
  relief from the sun.
  With room for diversion, yet ever
  a center of craft, and fair trade,
  and even my shadier sides maintaining
  a decent faade.
  Let me be wrought into balance, my lines
  discover perspective, amounting
  to more than the sum of my parts.
  Set in the middle, performing its function, a fountain.

Copyright © 1997 by William Dunlop

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