Poem of the Week | August 31, 2010

This week we are happy to present Jaswinder Bolina’s “Portrait of the Self.” Bolina is the author of Carrier Wave, winner of the 2006 Colorado Prize for Poetry. His more recent work has appeared in AGNI online, Black Warrior Review, The Laurel Review, and other journals.

Of the poem, Bolina writes: “‘Portrait of the Self” is an approximate self-portrait, but the poem is more a meditation on what compels us to produce self-portraits in the first place, whether they take the form of poetry, painting, or something as mundane as a vacation photo. I think it puts forward the idea that death is both the impetus for and resolution to the desire to depict the self in art. The specter of death bullies us into endlessly wanting to express and re-express ourselves in the hope of being recognized and preserved somehow. Then, it comes along and erases us, ending all our desires entirely. On the one hand, this seems awful. On the other, it might be something of a relief.”

Portrait of the Self

The self wakes up extruded of whimsy.

No tango in its Rorschach,
no mermen in its sea.

Just the self with its dull appendages,

all radial arm and ulna, no wing.

Dark face of the self in the reflective dark
of the microwave door,

the self so somber no-one would hold its hand
at a roller rink any longer than two revolutions.

Basket case of the self
with its penchant for gloom.

Beneath its accoutrements,
the self swears, it’s not so dumpy.

The self insists there are fairer editions of itself:

radiant in a dance hall or expert
on a call-in radio show,

executive self on the board of directors,

drunk and fond self
so earnest and so futile it’s necessarily beautiful.

Like a photograph
lying in a field of snow.

Fragile little self, hid animal in a cap and a coat
in the damp cold of the solstice.

Turbine of the self exhaling phantasms
of steam. Something escapes it.

In death, it’ll want only to be itself again.
In life, it wants only to conquer itself,

the self in its honest hovel honestly attempting
to void its desire.

Self as the pagoda and also the deity
cross-legged and worshipped there.

The self with its mule and its bindle already
yearning for so little.

Only the gig in Boca and a bungalow on the shore.
Only vision and dental

and the modest attention of a bashful cadre of devotees.

Only to grow tomatoes in Boca beside
a humble but ample veranda.

Only this and then, the self tells itself.

Then, it would abstain from longing.

Then, the self would desist in its hut of contentment,

bronzed and blithe self,

there on its porch with a vermouth and a tomato
in the early or expiring light.