Oliver Rice

Of Gravitas, Of Chicanery

 All language, says Borges, is a set     

of symbols whose use among the

speakers assumes a shared past.

 Man, said Emerson, is a golden impossibility.

 Man, said Nietzsche, must be overcome.

Of a hundred persons who recognize his name,
seventy-one confirm the proponent's charisma.

Of a hundred who have seen him in person,
on the platform and on camera,
eighty three, left and right, observe his amiability,
hear his people's voice, his quick intelligence,
of whom five refer to his gravitas,
nineteen to his virility,
of whom thirty six, however,
suspect him of devious intent, of posturing,
of a demagoguery in his pieties,
his claims to humble origins,
of whom one derides his leaning into the cello,
another saying, no, it is a guitar.

Of a hundred who know of him only from journalism
nineteen are unconcerned, either way,
for reasons of frivolity, passionate involvement,
cynicism, ignorance, or duress of life,
forty two are prejudiced by party or issue loyalties,
thirty nine are divided in their opinions
for reasons of his visionary courage,
suspicions of flaws in his character,
his disclosures of the undeniable,
rumors of chicanery among his supporters,

of the empowerment he promises,
their investment in the status quo,

of his ardor, their envy,

of his wit, their provinciality,

of the bewilderment of mind's theater.



But Other Things Are Also True

            signs left in the sandbox,
            on the hinges of the shutters,
            along the  crack in the driveway
the person Hal, costumed for the yard,
for sprawling in the hammock

            the morning eroticised by the sun

a broken twig, naked on the grass,
rightfully occupying its space

            the vicinity littered with causalities

the person Hal, credulous, subjective

            light peering into the souls of things

incredibly defying gravity,
the honeysuckle climbs the rainspout,
propelling earth's grudging moisture
up and out to the tips of its tendrils

            auras of risk emanating from anywhere

the person Hal held captive
by his undermind, his overmind

            patterns of survival in mortal contest

the spider, spider-like,
predator in the hedge

            a semblance of theology
            murmuring, flitting, exuding

the face of the person Hal unexplainable



Pocatello, Calcutta

Everywhere, said Salman Rushdie,
is now part of everywhere.

All cultures, said V. S. Naipaul,
have mingled forever.

Hiram, second generation off the farm,
partner in his father's business,
has saved all his daughter's letters,

speculating on her jeopardies in London,
in Sao Paulo, and now her perils in Calcutta,

she who writes so nostalgically of Idaho,
the sage, the pines on the mountains,
winter bird tracks in the first sheet of snow,
liver and onions, riding the white water,

who speaks so passingly of her life, her work,

he who reads of an unimaginable India,
of swamis and untouchables,
Mother Teresa and squalid slums,
weird food, music, attire,
elephants, monkeys, Bengal tigers ,
snake charmers, fire eaters,
monsoons, hysterical lifeways, massacres,

he who hovered discreetly over her childhood,
just as he studied her university days,
pondering her absorption in sociology,
her passion for track and field,

who searches his memories
for clues to how that evolved
into Washington, the foreign service,

who recalls the smiles she got by declaring
Snake River girls go anywhere, do anything,
and her mother, his clever wife Nan,
saying hush, let her be,

who had himself left college after two years,
in part dismayed at having his mind captive,
impatient to follow wherever it wanted to go,


the reasoning man to whom he has aspired,
walking the dog at sunrise in middle age,
saying theirs is a venerable culture,
with cities buried beneath cities,

ours juvenile, precocious, he reflects,
nodding to the mayor at the stoplight,
no less bizarre to a village guru,

our confidentialities with earth and sky,
potato fields, ceremonials,
expectations of the news,
so imprinted that one world is inconceivable,
a monoculture, he remarks to the school bus,
equally abhorrent to them, against nature,

his daughter this day a woman formed,
certainly, the thought comes and comes again,
more enlightened than he,
inevitably, on a visit home,
at certain moments a stranger—
perhaps by training, now by habit, an outsider,
an unengaged observer wherever she goes,
exhilarating, he senses, for some—

but surely, surely not for her, the one
who played trombone in the marching band.

Oliver Rice's poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies in the United States and abroad. An interview with Creekwalker was released by that zine in January, 2010. His book of poems, On Consenting To Be a Man, is offered by Cyberwit, in Allahabad, India, and is available on Amazon. His online chapbook, Afterthoughts, Siestas, and his recording of his Institute for Higher Study appeared in Mudlark in December 2010.



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