Sunday, October 11, 2015

Old Poem -- An Elevator That Only Goes Up

I realized that I have really not kept up with archiving some of my older poems.  That's probably for the best.  I have a soft spot for many of them, but only a few of them were "validated" by getting published in literary journals.  Ultimately I chose a very different path.

Before I get to this poem, I should mention that I was inspired to blog about it by the similar treatment by another author. I mentioned elsewhere that I was recently reading Clarice Lispector in the new translations published by New Directions.  I remember ages ago reading some of the short stories in Soulstorm and thinking they were pretty good.  So I bought a copy of her Complete Stories, but have been relying on the library for everything else.  I'm glad that I did, since I strongly disliked Água Viva and A Breath of Life to the point I was wondering why I had ever liked her in the first place.  Fortunately, I browsed through a few of her more conventional stories and thought she was still a decent writer, so it is just these two novels that are thoroughly experimental and not rewarding in my eyes.

Essentially the only section that really jumped out at me as something that I enjoyed was this section, practically a prose poem 2/3rd of the way through A Breath of Life.

My elevator suddenly refused to elevate or lower me. It was simply moving between floors, opening the door automatically and presenting me with the slap in the face of a wall. For days: sulky, angry, vindictive. Pointless because no one wished it ill. We were only using its energy. But it got irritated and decided to be rude. It needed a lot of oil and a lot of back-and-forth to finally make up with us and lower and elevate us.

What I can’t tolerate is fuss. The object is mute, it’s without any fuss.

There was a gaze of the atmosphere of the room upon me. I felt that gaze like a mysterious comfort.

As for how the rotation of the stars produces the inertia of my ashtray — explain it if you can.

That's half a page out of two short novels!  At any rate, the only reason this struck a chord with me was that I had written a few poems about "Useless objects" with this one the one that had the most legs so to speak.

An Elevator That Only Goes Up

Certainly it must be avoided in emergencies
as it would only rise,
taking people further from the ground.
Each day they move it up a floor
from the twenty-fourth to the twenty-fifth,
from the twenty-fifth to the twenty-sixth --
hoping that some motion might set it right --
it might go down.
They can squeeze sixty people into the elevator car.
On cue, they jump.
The springs squeal, but the elevator will not go down.
If only they could cut the cables, they think,
they could carry it down the back stairs,
put it back in its place.
Each day the elevator sits open on another floor.
No one knows what happens
when it runs out of room.

I certainly wasn't inspired by Lispector, since A Breath of Life was first published in English translation in 2012.  This poem is at least 20 years old.  It cribs a bit from Sexton's "Riding the Elevator into the Sky," though perhaps adds just a bit more existential dread.

Now that I think about it, I probably wrote it before I had a lot of experience with balky elevators in apartment buildings.  Probably the worst was when we lived on the top floor of a residential tower in Hyde Park, Chicago.  The apartment was great, except when the elevators went out!  Fortunately, that was fairly rare.  I may be misremembering, but I don't recall living about the 4th floor after that, so that an elevator going out of service was certainly an inconvenience, but not a climb where you had to hire sherpas.

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