Contributor’s Marginalia: Bruce Bond on “How Humans Came to Love“ by Doug Ramspeck
All good poems are love poems. OK. That’s reductive. But I actually believe it, and it usually takes some qualification to make the notion sensible. The poetic imagination, as many would agree, draws its vitality from Eros, not merely as the intent on connection but also as premised on estrangement, on the otherness, both inner and outer, that makes possible poetry’s embodied way of knowing. Poems that matter to me make something matter. They love something. They can never be about otherness or selfhood exclusively, but always about the dynamic commerce and conflated identities of the two, binaries can neither be separated nor simplified into sameness. Thus there tends to be something mythic endemic to poetry—that is, it would reconcile imaginatively that which cannot be reconciled rationally.
Doug Ramspeck’s terrific poem “How Humans Came to Love” summons us to the mythic, not merely as an imaginatively satisfying realm imbued with paradox, but also as a place to explore our origins, the psychic primacies whose influence is mysterious and everywhere we look. Everywhere: the gestures of seeking and eluding. “First rain overwhelmed/ the creek, scratching earth.” There is a factual gravity to the notion of life emerging from the storms that made of earth a water planet. But so too, in time, this force of vitality becomes one of terror that can never be divorced from the experience of time. “You could sense the years/ were eyelids opening/ then closing,” says the poet with great simplicity of means and complexity of association. We find not terror alone, but also wonder. Water slips, and amidst the flux the invention of heaven.
I also love how diction modulates just enough to locate us in the archetypal and yet avoid the monotone that is the risk of a deep image aesthetic. Winds here “arrange themselves,” and the human warmth is “soundless and discursive.” The latter word is a particular surprise, its etymology returning us to the notion of “dis-course” as something water-like, something that runs, that connects as moving things connect. And what is connected remains unknown: these bodies are “shadows” after all and remain withdrawn in sleep even as they merge. Is this not the paradox of Eros, that it requires an imagination, a surge of inward life that both separates and connects? Our shadows, guided by unknown depths, edge closer in dreams the way “a rock dropped into/ dark waters disappears.” This is so gorgeous in its mythic convergence and speed, so precise in its elusiveness, that I find myself wanting to follow that rock, to die into life, to face a more enlarging terror and its bliss. Thus we might slip, the way water slips, giving in to the temporal and unknown in another as a part of some dire and fortunate connection to the natural world. How humans came to love is how they might come to poems like this, drawn by some dissonance in the music, some vanishing in the arrival, some empowerment in the dark surrender.
Bruce Bond is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Choir of the Wells (Etruscan, 2013). Forthcoming books include The Other Sky (Etruscan) and For the Lost Cathedral (LSU).