Lie To Me

December 11, 2015

Contributor’s Marginalia: Zeina Hashem Beck on “This Is Yours” by Rick Bursky

“This Is Yours” is a title that immediately flirts with and involves you, the reader. And what is it, you find yourself asking, that the poem’s speaker is about to offer you? The truth, and lies, and it doesn’t matter which.

Consider the poem’s playful first line, for instance: “I’m the most famous fabulist in a family of famous fabulists.” The word “fabulist” could literally mean someone who tells fables, or, more metaphorically, someone who lies. And you will find out, as you read the poem, that the speaker is both storyteller and liar, and that (again) this doesn’t matter. The alliteration in this first line, the superlative “most,” and the repetition of “famous fabulist,” are beautiful exaggerations that attract the ear, that make you want to listen; “Alright,” you find yourself saying, “Tell me. Lie to me.”

The second line, introducing the speaker’s lover into the equation, tells you that this is a love poem. Now I don’t know about you, but a love poem that starts with blurring the lines between reality and illusion has already won me over. The speaker tells you that his lover enjoyed the illusions he offered her, and the enjambment on the word “pretended” in line 5 highlights how the pretense is important, even necessary, for the relationship. In fact, underneath the humor and the strange images (having sex fully clothed, taking wedding vows connected to a polygraph), the poem is also asking you, “But don’t you do this too? Don’t you tell yourself stories about how you love, how you are loved? Don’t you invent?”

Also, underneath the playfulness and the pretending are tenderness and a shared hurt: how he loved the way she talked in her sleep, how she “wore necklaces made of thorns/ draped across her breasts each night,” and how they bled together. The beauty of this poem partly lies in the way it negotiates and brings together what might seem contradictory: humor and hurt, reality and illusion, truth and lies, private and public, and even persona and reader.

And then the poem gives you Antony and Cleopatra, Hitler and Eva, and Helen of Troy. These, too, are yours, and you find yourself asking the same question the persona does, “What sort of relationship can you build on that?” All these stories are simultaneously public and private, all of them are tragic, and they all lend themselves to a fabulist’s imagination: “Who did Helen of Troy really love?” How many versions can you construct when you tell your love story? How much in love depends on what you invent and re-invent, on the roles you play, on seeing and being seen?

The speaker in this poem says, “oh, / I know what I’m talking about.” But does he? Do you? And will you, as lover, ever know what you’re talking about when you talk about love? Yes, hello Carver; I also find there’s a rhythmic similarity between Carver’s title (“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”) and this poem’s first line (“I am the most famous fabulist in a family of famous fabulists). I love how the poem reverts again to the reader in the end, making him/her storyteller (“You can tell this story/ as if it were yours, even change the names/ if you want”), without, however, excluding the speaker. With the final “or call out mine,” the persona is still flirting with you, still there, playing, asking, offering no answers, no definitions.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet with a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her first poetry collection, To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014), won the 2013 Backwaters Prize, judged by esteemed poet Lola Haskins. It was also a runner up for the Julie Suk Award, a category finalist for the 2015 Eric Hoffer Awards, and has been included on Split This Rock’s list of recommended poetry books for 2014. She’s been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, River Styx, 32 Poems, The Common, and Copper Nickel, among others. Zeina reads regularly at poetry evenings, festivals (most recently the 2015 Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature), theaters, and universities around the Middle East. She is the founder of PUNCH, a Dubai-based poetry and open mic collective, for which she hosts monthly readings. She’s on the editorial board of All Roads Will Lead You Home, a new online literary journal by VAC poetry.

Previous post:

Next post: