Steve Scafidi – The Sublime
I ran across Steve Scafidi’s first book in a local indy bookstore and bought it on a whim. Might have been the cover. Might have been the title. Most likely it was glancing at a few poems and going for it. And I am glad that I did. It is filled with some amazing poems. But this poem in particular spoke to me on several levels. Emotionally, it packs a wallop. Craft-wise, it does things that amaze me and draw me back to it over and over. It is one that I have attempted to memorize and recite, and I am close, but my brain cells, well, that’s another story. I have this poem printed out and pinned on the wall above my desk.
—– For Larry Levis
And what good is a dream finally? It breaks your head open
and cello music pours out of a stranger’s window and the most
gorgeous woman you ever loved says to hit the road and you do
see them—that stranger and this woman. Kissing everywhere.
In the trees. On boats. In the kitchen cupboards. The fog
of daily life never lifts and the checkbook needs proper
calculations and the dog would like supper please and now
without warning the dream returns. It breaks your head open.
You lie there for a week and no one finds you until the dog
having lost its dignity finally eats and when there is no more
howls. It howls. And you are a missing person, a passage
of shit quivered into the dirt. A good boy. A terrible dream
someone picks up with a plastic bag wrapped in his hand
to throw away and you are thrown away. You do it every day.
Waking too early, driving to work, working and returning.
Reading poems of great beauty and crying at the movies.
Touching the hair of your niece who laughs at water. Flying
over cornfields so close and so openly that when you wake
there is silk in your beard. Your arms are tired and hang
at your sides like the wings of a migratory bird who is about
to die. And what good is a dream finally? It breaks your heart
and you stand in the lush dark of the moment after twilight
ends and begin to sing and nothing makes sense to you
and you sing louder for a while, then awkwardly sit down
where you are. And the stars overhead shine a little—no more
or less than usual—and whether it is daylight and they are invisible
or whether it is night and they are the embers of a blacksmith’s
fire, they shine and you are grateful. That love is like a hammer.
The book is Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer (2001). His second book is For Love of Common Words (2006). Both are from LSU Press and are worth owning, reading and re-reading.
Steve Scafidi was raised in Virginia and earned his MFA at Arizona State University. His first book was nominated for the 2001 National Book Award, the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and won the Fifth Annual Larry Levis Reading Prize. He occasionally teaches poetry at Johns Hopkins University, but in the real world he works as a cabinet maker and lives in West Virginia with his wife and daughter.