One Pig Two Animals

Henri Cole. Touch.

Two poems stand out for me by their connected theme of the insufficiency of body to achieve transcendental states. Take “Pig” in which the speaker is driving behind a flatbed truck and contemplates the “poor patient pig” trying to keep his balance. The speaker imagines the animal “enjoying the wind, maybe, against the tufts of hair / on the tops of his ears” and then via an acknowledgement of the viewer-speaker having heavy eyes “glazed / from caffeine and driving” the animal becomes a figure for the man “in his middle years struggling to remain / vital and honest while we are just floating / around accidental-like on a breeze.” The speaker pulls back slightly from the “we” to conclude with a muted exclamation.

What funny thoughts slide into the head,
alone on the interstate with no place to be.

The conversational tone belies the enjeu raised earlier when the speaker last invokes the pig “its flesh probably bacon now tipping into split / pea soup”. The concessive adverbs pile up: maybe the pig enjoys the breeze, possibly ends up in pea soup and we are just floating. It is a remarkable tour de force to so intently focalize the perspective and to imply a universal aspect to the funny thoughts.

This wry voice seems to be at work in another poem later in the book called “One Animal” — the echo with “Pig” is marked for me by the insistence on failure of a sort and the triumph of a kind of animality. “One Animal” consists almost entirely of relationship advice phrased in the “do not” mode. Some of it is hopeless. For example, how can one not woof woof when told “Do not utter the monosyllable twice that is / the signature of dogdom.” The set of do not statements culminates in an ending that again stresses our aloneness (but not our loneliness).

And do not think — touching his hair,
licking, sucking, and being sucked in the same
instant, no longer lonely — that you
are two animals perfect as one.

Quite some time ago (in the last century) I worked through a critique of dyads and would have welcomed lines from Henri Cole to serve as an epigraph and keen reminder that the couple is not a fusion into one single entity unmarked by dialectics. But Cole’s poems deserve to be further relished not only in part for his naughty celebration of the homoerotic allied to a severe reckoning with romance but also in part for their pure craft.

And so for day 1123

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