Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A PROBLEM IN AESTHETICS, by KAREN SWENSON



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A PROBLEM IN AESTHETICS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: They sent him away
Last Line: And one of us forgot.
Subject(s): Immigrants; Poetry & Poets; Russia; Emigrant; Emigration; Immigration; Soviet Union; Russians


They sent him away
from the Revolution,
a child-package to America,
a wooden label tied around his neck,
the whales bumping and rubbing against his sleep.
When he docked
his dead relations had left him
like a legacy to a Norwegian neighbor,
a blond woman, who bent over him
and raised him in a language neither of them knew.

Half a century later, he's still baby-faced
under a gray crewcut,
pink scalp showing like white mouse skin.
A retired marine,
he sits among the beards of twenty years
in the creative writing class
and sings us deathly ditties
like get-well cards
or love poems to his faithfully imaginary wife.

Denying the child lullabied by whales
from Vladivostok to Seattle
who grew up to survive Pacific wars
and love a wife quite faithlessly real,
he constructs his make-believe life
telling us that rhyme and sentiment
are the ingredients,
that art's a kind of almond paste
and trots his poems out like marzipan pigs.

But just as in a woodcut folktale,
beneath the sugar scabs
that he mistakes for healing,
deep within the sweet pink belly of the pig,
a boy's soprano,
clear as red wine in a sunlit glass,
sings of apple blossoms
and we are in a wood
enchanted by a tongue
most of us have never known
and one of us forgot.





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