Dark Poet, your pen scratches at the heart of life.
Nonsense is often the most sensible kind of sense. This is counterintuitive, but trust me for a moment as we proceed. This is no three-card monte. Nor is it like the wonderful magic of Emmett Kelley the clown sweeping his spotlights into a single circle, and then putting that circle in his pocket, patting his pocket and smiling like Einstein after he’d eureka’d light into a corner.
Nonsense reveals all of us—our self, our situation—in a single pop of recognition as we are trampolined from our usual assurances and then forced to regain our footing, to regain our meaning, on the fly. Like an old-fashioned photographer’s flash powder, we are exposed to an extreme of light, with no visible space left for secrets or lies. This is part of the odd exhilaration of nonsense. And, don’t get me wrong, nonsense isn’t some sly encyclopedia where all hidden truths are stored and we must simply discover the index—oh, no. Rather, the puzzles that nonsense reveal are genuinely unsolvable. Gregor Samsa will never come back from being a cockroach; his transformation in the story “Metamorphosis” has simply revealed the pickle he was already in, but didn’t know that he was in.
What nonsense reveals, at its best, are genuine mysteries.
And, like Gregor Samsa, the character in the poem “Nagging Question,” who wakes up with a pile of feathers at his feet after having torn his pillow apart in his sleep, all he can do with a true mystery, once it has been revealed, is to go back into the realm from which the mystery emanated. Gregor cross-examines his family situation, and the character in our poem returns to the realm of sleep and dream. But, with new, perhaps sharper, questions in mind with which to confront the mystery that has been revealed. Or, it may be, with no questions at all, simply with one’s eyes widened.
This process resembles the scientific method, except for the fact that there is no control group. What variables could nonsense ever control for? There may one day be a science of comedy, but never one for true mystery. The only control group we have in poetry is every other poem ever written. Their mysteries abide, and it is into them that we go to confront those mysteries again and again—and to find more of ourselves more truthfully (or at least more fully) revealed.
[With] the pillow exploded uselessly between your hands And what looks to be a chicken carcass Piled in an inscrutable white mound Headless between your bare feet [...] There’s only one place for you to find your answer.
August 28, 2017