This is prose,
not poetry, but
let’s be sincere
The truth will out, but do we take the time to note it, and will we recognize it when we see it? I ask because it’s a question of vision.
Sure it is. Follow me here, if you will.
See, I have this thing about roadside billboards that have been left to the weather —the paper withered and lacerated, mixed messages from sundry times melding into unintended meanings, rust and wood showing through. It appears flat but betrays secret depth.
And I wonder (sometimes, for no apparent reason, I wonder things like this) if maybe people are like these billboards torn by time, maintaining their shapes while hinting at the secrets hidden under layers of paper, ink and glue.
Sure they are.
See? Scratch the surface. People, too, camouflage enigmas under the cover of happy colors and bright slogans. Mysteries are concealed beneath their skin, forgotten layers that sometimes push through of their own accord, and other times are torn free by mere circumstance, memory or wild catastrophe.
Water-softened and sun-dried, the weathered membrane peels back. Real lives squirm under the onionskins we turn to show the world, the smiles like billboards by which we advertise something that maybe never truly was — reality now revealed by juxtaposition with that which lay secluded just beneath, that which would not (or could not) remain buried.
This is the viscera, the rawness poets ache to glimpse, the honesty Kerouac was seeking when, in Book of Blues, he wrote, “I mean / This is prose / Not poetry / But I want / To be sincere.”
But what does it mean, this contrasted with that — the before and the after, both fading together in the sun-bright face of the now?
The rusted backboard, the termite-eaten and time-rotted wood. The bleached paper and spotted ink that make up a person’s past? The half-messages, now garbled and misunderstood, ghosts of meaning left by those who came before, who passed this way, pressed their designs upon our surfaces, and have since moved on.
All of it, taken at once and jutting above the treeline for all to see?
It is what it is, and we must not make more of it than that. Look quickly, gaze deeply, take it in when you can. Because tomorrow, if not sooner, a new skin will be placed — bright smiles, fashionable slogans, happy colors on fresh paper.
It’s the only way we can survive together, after all.
(The preceding appeared as my Sunday "Undercurrents" column in The News Herald, May 15, 2005, alongside a photo to follow as the next post.)