Dispatches | October 03, 2011

Steve Gehrke’s “Prologue, Epilogue” (TRM 34.2) is a slayer of a metaphysical (and metaphorical) lyrical guitar solo, a mind and time-bending storm of manic naming that would surely please Plato, John Donne, Shelley, Emerson, G.M. Hopkins, Yeats, or Slash. Centering around the infinitesimal yet all-encompassing concept of creation and reproduction—of a daughter’s birth—the poem wraps up in its rapturous and rapacious rhapsody, in its tornadic sheath: love, sex, genetics, ontology (recapitulates) phylogeny, physics, religion, linguistics, poetics, composition theory, history, politics, ecology, astronomy, along with a dozen or so side-shows like sky-writing and game theory. Make no mistake, this is the poem of a Doctor: of Shelly and Emerson and Whitman’s Poet at the head of Science; and to bring it all back home, we find the contours–the kick–of an individual life, of personal narrative.  Everything, in other words, encapsulated in the human. And in this humanist, metaphysical perspective, that’s everything we know.

Prologue, Epilogue
–for my daughter

When you were vaulted, embargoed, tapping out
messages on the walls, when you were translucent,
opalescent, a hieroglyph coming to life in its cave,
when your body was a glowing aquarium of cells,
when you were reptilian, mammalian, quick-changing
behind the curtain’s folds, when you were a kite
unfolding the wind, an expanding mesh, an origamist
of the flesh, when you were a repetition, an exhalation,
a star’s migration, when you hopscotched the chalked side-
walks of our chromosomes, when you were docked
and moored, when you were the building storm, a collection
of notes being scored, the sampler, the copyist, the knot
of streams, the welcome plagiarist of genes,
when you were something written a thousand times,
a thousand times erased, when you were a text slowly
being traced, when the eternal grammars sifted into you
like the sediment of stars, when you were a syntax,
a structure, the perfect rhyme, the one that worked,
the eureka in our laboratory of sighs, when you
were unjointed, unmade, unbecome, bodiless,
vagabond, a clapper in need of a bell, when you
were a fixation, a flirtation, our compendium,
our chapter and verse, when we groped for you
like a light switch, when you were a target, a zeroing-
in, the one lucky toss in our carnival games, a glint,
a guess, the alchemist’s dream, when you were whistling
on the stoop of our thoughts, the ventriloquist,
the eaves-dropper, the message in the ear, the sky-
written note the wind had just erased, when you
were a divided city, axed but magnetized, you longing
for you, the pheromones in the air, when we carried you
like synchronized keys, our balkanized deity,
when you were anybody’s guess, the card dealt
from the middle of the deck, the fortune-teller’s lies,
when you were fractured, rationed, metabolized backwards
through the generations, when you were a splinter
in a million different boards, a single grain in a silo of cells,
when you were the whole flock, the herd, the fire-
flies rising in the fields, when you were the fields
themselves, when you spread out across the plains,
a hundred thousand streams with the currents
reversed, when you were a universe of bees
promised to a hive, when an entire civilization
began its pilgrimage to you, when you were atoms,
electrons, the ancient seeds, morphic, mineral,
cascading down evolution’s alleyways, embroidered
in the mysteries, weren’t we already just out ahead
of you, two ghosts being erased by the fog, weren’t we
already being burned away, weren’t we a contraction,
a resolving contradiction, the final stops on your migration,
weren’t we already knotted in a braid, isn’t this a back-
wards elegy, my forward etymology, isn’t it the billions
of years before your birth that we should mourn,
aren’t you the root, the source, the pyramid’s tip,
won’t you be our mother when the causal chain flips?