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Ringtone

July 25, 2016

 

Ringtone

As they loaded the dead onto the gurneys
to wheel them from the university halls,
who could have predicted the startled chirping
in those pockets, the invisible bells
and tiny metal music of the phones,
in each the cheer of a voiceless song.
Pop mostly, Timberlake, Shakira, tunes
never more various now, never more young,
shibboleths of what a student hears,
what chimes the dark doorway to the parent
on the line. Who could have answered there
in proxy for the dead, received the panic
with grace, however artless? A live bird
gone still at the meeting of the strangers.

Bruce Bond, 2009

COMMENTARY: Hovering somewhere over this poem is Theodore Adorno’s widely repeated quote: “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Silence is ordinarily the only response suitable for tragedy. Not only because silence solemnizes but also because, in extremis, no words, however artful, soothe. Trauma reduces the mind to stunned aphasia. Which is, I suppose, a fancy way of saying it’s really hard to write about this stuff. What I admire about this poem, I think, is that Bond does write about it. Whether or not I think the poem works, Bond is making a daring effort to encapsulate a difficult aspect of modernity: the way, in our time, there is, on the one hand, a culture weighed down with savagery, and, on the other hand, a culture blithely ornamented with gizmos and geegaws. Our society often seems an eerie mix of barbarity and triviality.

Technically, I admire the way this poem handles the sonnet form. The offrhymes (chirping/ gurneys; halls/bells, etc.) enact the dissonance of the wrong person answering the phone, i.e., the wrong rhyme is waiting at the end of the line. The image of “a live bird/ gone still at the meeting of strangers” is a striking both for the birdlike chirping of the cellphone and the phone dropping shellshock of the grief.

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One Comment
  1. I like this observation: “The off rhymes (chirping/ gurneys; halls/bells, etc.) enact the dissonance of the wrong person answering the phone, i.e., the wrong rhyme is waiting at the end of the line.” Parent/panic is a pretty good example.

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