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One of You

January 10, 1988|Robert Mezey

There are some men who have deserted life, who finally couldn't stand the taste and spit it out. Something in them is broken in such a way that only death can heal it, or worse. Sometimes you see one in a Mexican village walking aimlessly, regarding creation with a slack stare while all around him sit taut bellies, eaters of suffering. One night he walks for hours, out past the lighted doorways and faint snatches of incomprehensible speech to where the darkness is total and the life he wanted to remember breathes in the grass which he can't see. He gets down on his knees and weeps a little and on his hands and loses it and finally falls asleep. In the morning he will order breakfast, hands curled on the spotless linen, dry face facing the empty sunlight--but it's the meal after the last and you will not recognize him. He is back, and he is one of you again.

Arrangement rather than collection is the word that comes to mind for Robert Mezey's "Evening Wind" (Wesleyan University Press: $18; 80 pp.). The book has four movements. The poem above is taken from the first and longest, "Small Song," a group of poems in what might be called the poet's middle register. This is followed by a scherzo of heightened, Dionysiac prose, entitled "Prose and Cons" ("Our farther, whose art is heavy, hollow bead I name"). The third movement, "Couplets," is the book's slow movement and is written, as the title indicates, entirely in couplets, 15 pages of them:

A woman gazes after a man, a man after a woman

But their eyes don't meet. They're looking somewhere else.

A note at the back of the book says that "Couplets" was composed as an experiment "with an ear both to our native meters and to the quantitative measure of Latin lyric"; that is, to a measure based not on accentuation but on the audible, measurable length of vowels. The last, title section is both the most formal and the most powerful of the four. Within it, the title poem proper, after a painting of the same title by Edward Hopper, closes:

Why then does she suddenly look aside

At a white window full of empty space

And curtains swaying inward? Does she sense

In darkening air the vast indifference

That enters in and will not be denied,

To breathe unseen upon her nakedness?

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