Dennis Haskell, Part II

4 Nov

“After Fifty Years” and “Chance: A Conversation” are both remarkable for the incisiveness and the threat with which their conclusions are arrived at.

“After Fifty Years”

I counted off the tattoos

on all their numbered arms.

I stacked them up

like racks of brot.

I gave them bliss

through my almost silent

silencing song.

Those ink-stamped queues

of bones and shaven heads

in their own way

thanked me for it.

It was not like you think.

Mostly little fuss. Mostly quiet.

There was not much point

in protest. Methods

prove the existence of perfection.

They queued up for

their ration, their share.

I never discriminated

between them. I insist

that I treated them

all equally. At times

I almost thought

I could turn myself

on and off at will.


If I were human

I would have been capable

of anything.


Possibly my favourite poem of his (along with “Temperatures”) is this one, “Chance: A Conversation”. The final words remind me of the “first player” as King in Hamlet:


But, orderly to end where I begun,

Our wills and fates do so contrary run

That our devices still are overthrown.

Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.

(III.2, 220-224)


Here’s the Haskell poem:

“Chance: A Conversation”

Chance, I know that my chances

of having a conversation with you

are slight, at the very best, I

know it’s no use taking exception

to your presence, but what on earth

are you doing in this life? Your place

seems so arbitrary; and

if we could sit down together

I know the talk would be hopelessly

haphazard, since you know no bounds

and anything could leap to anything else:

love could lead swiftly to gardens to garbage,

a line of poetry might read

‘kohl adrift more she role ti dah’.

There are those sure your heart belongs to dada

but you know its heart belongs to you.

So around the world we’d go on a

marvellous, maddening, richly frustrating excursion

in which go is only occasionally distinguishable from woe.

Some think you are not the ultimate

in godliness, which you find a glorious joke;

you who know no meaning know meaning best.

Only when we get to death, a subject

in which you have a role, we part company.

You say, ‘In the end that’s the topic

which is for you, but is not for me’.


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