& over the Cliff Notes we go again, with Read-Along-with Rest Note :
Poem #8 :
(dedicated to John Tagliabue, my (ex)father-in-law, who died last month; last Saturday (which would have been his 83rd birthday) a memorial gathering was held, people filled a restaurant to read poems, reminisce. A group did a staged reading of an excerpt from one of the Mario puppet plays. There were a few old hippie-zen people from the 50s or 60s - one guy who said he had come upon one of John's poems in a magazine, & it changed his life : he was holding a "tailgate" party outside the restaurant, sharing bottled water and his enormous collection of small-press Tagliabue materials, which he'd been collecting for 50 years. He could hardly speak before the audience, this old taoist hobo. It was an emotional day.)
8.1 : "Hobo drifts..." etc. - poet as exile, outsider, prophet. "privy contretemps" - could mean a number of things. Private shame, embarrassment; Yeats's "the quarrel with ourselves" out of which we make poetry; and (punningly) a secret or arcane (prophetic) anachronism, or "counter-time" : the poet's alienation has something uncanny about it. "pet raven" - his muse here is one of denunciation and doom (self-doom, too, thinking of Poe's "Raven").
8.2 : "narrow gauge" - both a type of railway line and a "gage" or glove thrown down for a duel (between the railroad - here representing social power, generally, that which "railroads" everybody, in Populist parlance - and the "thin red line" of the poet's lips - here in a martial sense of doing battle. But the lips are closed, in a "curved plum of silence". At this point the poem's emotional affect turns (on that curve). Paradoxically, the place where ships seemingly "descend" - "go down" - is a measure of the earth's curvature, the horizon : and the "promise of their tutelage" - that is, what is learned, from the exploratory effort of the ships, is a promise of concord : at the "vanishing point" - ie. at the meeting-point of all the lines of exploration.
8.3 : underlines the hopeful direction of previous stanza : "shared reality". However, this is one of the poems which is short (by one) the usual 7 stanzas, marked by an asterisk-break at the midpoint.
8.4 : The divide marks another turn in the poem's register of feeling. The second part of this poem shows not so much a simple union or reunion (symbolized by the ships or the earth's curvature) : here it is more a matter of establishing a balance between firmly separated things. "Edith, I slept.../hopelessly" - In a poem dedicated to John Tagliabue, there are a lot of personal elements emerging here. Hobo, Teddy Roosevelt, Lazarus, & the speaker are blending together somewhat. "Edith" was TR's wife's name. "Edith" is also the 1st name of my ex-wife, John T's eldest daughter (though everyone from the beginning called her by her middle name, Francesca). The "jade tree" - an India Jade - was a wedding gift from my mother, which is still growing (large) at the corner of Francesca's house. Hobo, Whitman, "Passage to India", the earth's curve, etc... "the driftwood" etc. - the image here is a sort of fusion between a sense of life & time's "drift" with the image of the swingset - symbol of a mysterious sort of constancy, recurrence, strung from "parallel" ropes from a tree. Image itself recurs in many forms through the poem so far.
8.5 : "suspended gravity" etc. - the idea is that the desire and longing in the human heart have an otherworldly (anti-gravitational), infinite aspect (the parallels meet in infinity) - which is, in reality, the ultimate measure of things and of the goals of the human will and activity. Out of the vision of this comes the "inclusive arch" (in a sort of echo of Crane's Bridge) of poetic speech; it is the source of the Whitman-style magnanimity which Tagliabue, in particular, lived out so eloquently and fantastically in the course of his life.
8.6 : "lambency/of recursion" - in poetry, the word both recurs and recoils on itself (in a doubleness like a swing's back/forth motion). "almond shadow-lens" - many things compacted here. The almond tree, flowering in winter, links back to the uncanny "exile" of the hobo (almond being the representative tree of Judaism, faith of wandering exiles) and the otherworldly "suspended gravity" of the heart's desire. The "shadow-lens" goes back to the Lazarus camera obscura; "shadow" also implying something still (or always) hidden from view. (A lens is itself an almond-shape : the geometrical vesica, joining 2 intersecting circles.) "twirled into one/untutored sport" - the oscillation of the swing takes on inertial energy of its own, twirling - into the "untutored sport" of nature. No longer under the "tutelage" of explorer-ships, the poet-hobo is an athlete, a "sport" whose "spirit-ditties" seem effortless, unschooled - like the Taoist poets & painters whom Tagliabue emulated and seemed to become, eventually, himself.