Friday, December 22, 2006

Greg Williamson, "Binocular Diplopia"

I've tried, Lord knows,
To keep from seeing double....

-James Merrill

Life was a blur. Or so he thought. The thing
Was, he'd been diagnosed with a small-time
Astigmatism. Why think otherwise?
But when the doctor told him, "Read the chart,"
And he replied, "Which one?" even the smart
Young nurse said, "Uh oh." As for him, his eyes
Were opened and he saw, for the first time,
That he was seeing two of everything.

This would explain a lot. In stereoscopic
Hindsight he reviewed old patterns of
Mistakes: missed shots, a lifetime of misreading,
Mixed signals (this as the nurse was double-knitting
Her cute brows), false moves, smashed thumbs from hitting
The wrong nail on the head, all finally leading
To how the woman he first fell in love
With turned to myth. But that's another topic.

Meanwhile, the long walk home. Or rather two.
A second one appeared to levitate,
Illusive, epiphanic, and oblique—
Like dual reflections in a double pane
Of glass, or some self-referential strain
Of allegory. Which one, so to speak,
Was true? If seeing's believing, not the great
Sam Johnson could refute it: Both were true.

Twinned like a postcard's double-stamped cachet,
The phone lines added up to musical staves,
With a score of birds; Shell's logo seemed to shine
Like a big con; and everywhere he turned,
His second nature brazenly returned
Equivocations in the plainest sign,
From the pecuniary, JESUS SAVES
To the unwittingly blunt SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY,

As if the world were, after all, a text,
"A book in folio," a hieroglyph.
Here was the uncorrected proof. The elder's
Two thick volumes of belated leaves
And, spiraling in double helices,
Its legendary keys all seemed to tell,
Beside themselves, another tale, as if
These traces were the cryptic analects

Of some long-lost original. (Or flim-
flam! Now get real. this is pure grandstanding.
Look in thy heart, etc.) Double trouble.
Even close introspection was abased.
With two left feet, twin-featured and two-faced,
He saw, head down, foreshortened in a puddle,
Under a critical sign that said, NO STANDING,
Me. (When was it I turned into him?)

So that was that. And he (we'll say) set out
Again, flung open the double doors to find
Her smiling faces, whom he'd fancied for
So long as muse, and girl back home, and quest,
And so much more. Closing his eyes to rest
He saw her image turn from metaphor
To perfect vision, singular, clear, defined,
The one thing he had always dreamt about.


From Errors in the Script (2001)

And here we find a final quasi-riddle poem to end our round=up week. In one sense, the title begins as a riddle (unless you look it up or happen to be an opthamologist), which is then revealed to be the answer to the riddle of the poem. But Williamson [b. 1964] continues to cast his lines further out in multiple directions, exploring other metaphorical resonances for double vision - which might be taken as revision, hindsight, or the way of looking anew I discussed in the first weeks - often with humorous results. As throughout his work, Williamson here is a clever and witty poet, but I believe one whose poetic manner has substance to it, as expressing a cheerful, engaging vision of life's failures and felicities, our shortcomings and the new possibilities and viewpoints which can grow out of them.

(More on Greg Williamson:

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