"But wait," said Everett, scrolling through love songs on the iPod, leaning slight away from where Monroe had fallen, tearful, asleep beside him in his bed on the floor. "I don't understand why poems..." he trailed off.
"What makes them different from prose?" I said, "from stories, from books, from things in paragraphs?" He nodded, pushed "play." "I'll tell you after the song," I said, and read ahead for three minutes. It was Clamor that I was reading, a small book written by a woman who also seems small in her photos, not short but so little, as if she might squeeze herself into a linen closet or under a desk if the occasion rose. Elyse Fenton. She'd won the Dylan Thomas prize, this is how I'd discovered her poems that told so much of my own experience and so much more of her own. No, she was there symbolizing me but was nothing like me, full of sex and long kisses and hunger for the flesh of the man she'd let slip away to Iraq, so gored with the blood and dirt of other men's death. He was a medic; she a young bride pushing pepper seedlings into the dirt of Eugene; she read Dante and wrote of Persephone as I, near-past thirty-something, dove deep into Homer and looked to Andromache as my icon guide. As my husband drove fast down highways and slow down tarmacs, in armored SUVs, picking up luggage, not body bags; making itineraries, not lists of personal effects.
Oh! We are worlds different; we are one and the same. The song ends. I haven't an answer yet.
"Poetry," I said, "in classical times had rules. It had to fit a very strict form; it had to rhyme if the form said 'rhyme,' or have the rhythm of sounds that the form said 'have.' Iambic pentameter," I said, "duh DUM duh DUM duh DUM duh DUM duh DUM But SOFT what LIGHT through YONder WINdow BREAKS, it IS the EAST and JULiet IS the SUN."
But poetry, now, it can be in any form and it is different than prose because prose tells a story with words in ordinary sentences that do not hide their meaning. They are what they say they are. Poetry, poetry has meaning behind the words, hidden meaning that you can see or not see, can strike out at you, meaning hidden behind every word.
"Poetry," said Everett, contemplating, "I've noticed that poetry describes things."
Yes, description! And emotion, of course, poetry describes a scene and evokes in you an emotion. Poetry is meant to make you feel something instantly when you first read it, not slowly over many pages, but there! The emotion comes up and out of you.
And poetry is something you can hear. It has a sound, it has its own music, poetry is music and poetry is emotion. And instead of crying when I said this, I read a poem about Iraq to Everett, I thought he would like it and he said, yes, he did, and he listened to his song again while I read deep into the blackest fear of a Dante-dripped war-bride. For this, she won a prize of $50,000, and a week's stay in Wales with her baby girl.
I walked down the stairs, then, after Everett fell asleep and after I turned off the iPod, and I was hungry for apples, and I wrote of chicken coops and newborn spiders and free boxes and birth, life, sun so bright, so bright.