|Caravaggio's Narcissus, which graces the cover of Bruce Bond's book, The Throats of Narcissus.|
Bruce Bond's poem, "Jon Faddis and the High Note," was awarded second prize in the first annual Asheville Poetry Review William Matthews Prize, selected by judge Sebastian Matthews from a stellar group of finalists, and will appear in the 2011 issue of Asheville Poetry Review. Bond will be participating in a reading along with the 1st- and 3rd-place winners (Michael White and Mary Makofske, respectively) at Asheville Wordfest on Saturday, May 7th at 4:00 at the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville. In anticipation of that reading, I have asked Bond's permission to reproduce "Echolalia," an amazing poem from his book The Throats of Narcissus, here.
Bond's mastery of metaphor and phrase is ubiquitously evident, as, for example, when he compares the sound of a spoken phrase, though it be a question, to "the wraith of answers," which is in turn compared to "the bucket returning with air from the bottom." This poem is a powerful exploration of the ways we somehow find comfort within the comfortless reality of mortality--it should be impossible, but nevertheless it happens--and Bond's poem is one such impossible source of comfort for me.
by Bruce Bond
Late in the day's contagion
of patients, my mind consumed
in my body's problems, my difficult heart,
I see a girl on the waiting-room carpet
crouched in her invisible house.
She is fitting a red plastic hammer in the hole
a doll's head should be,
pounding a nonexistent nail
into the eye of her shoe,
and to my own quiet surprise I ask
What's wrong? What's wrong,
she says, word for word in a colder music,
as if speaking were her way
of listening, of passing my question on.
I'm not the only one between us
lost in translation, unlocking the voice
inside the voice, each voice a doll
split from another doll's belly;
whatever I say is her tongue's gospel;
she would make herself small for me.
And since she's not my child,
I'm bound to ask again, compelled
like the lonely confessor on a bus.
We could be talking to our own bodies—
our stunned pulse, a frozen hand—
waiting for replies in pins of feeling.
Heaven knows what lies there
coiled in her ear, breaking my English
down into an ever quieter English,
if what she hears is a query
descending, a little drier on her lips,
or the wraith of answers, released:
the bucket returning with air from the bottom.
It reminds me of the malice of children,
how they mimic one another into madness,
though I know better. That night I catch
my breath in the stairwell.
With every step a fading stutter of feet.
It's a story so foreign I feel mine
pale where hers begins, with a doll
whose head pounds the daylights
into the cold bright nail of sleep—
what's wrong, what's wrong, what's wrong.
I too want a way out, to make a person
of my problems and so survive them,
my heart stronger, clearer. I want to unlock
the hole in her throat with my words in it,
and I keep going there, stair after stair,
a stranger's breath on my own tongue.
*Reproduced from The Throats of Narcissus (University of Arkansas Press, 2001) by permission of the author.