Saturday, August 03, 2019

A Certain Necessary Something (Charles Simmons)

The writer Charles Simmons, who died two years ago, wrote a half-dozen novels, of which I've read only two. As far as I know he never published a volume of poetry, but this strangely affecting bit of verse is embedded in his 1998 novel Salt Water (a kind of retelling of Turgenev's First Love, set on the coast of New England). It's purportedly written by one of the characters, a teenage girl, and presented to a boy she's smitten with a bit more than he is with her.
Thoughts for a Beach Party

We're all alone—at least the others are
asleep. We touch and smile. No words, just thoughts,
of which a chance one sparkles, and we laugh.
There'll come a day, I fear, when you are out
of reach and memory is all of you
I have; and then another day when that
is gone. That morning I'll awake and rise
and eat an ordinary breakfast, dress
and go to leave—to find that I forgot
a certain necessary something, just
my comb, my keys, a paper, or a book—
a light makes darkness clearly black: a part
of me is lost. And then I'll wonder what
you were and where you were and try to reason
out an emptiness and hunt for non-
existent strings to pull you back in view.
What then? These words I've understood and truths
I've known because of you, these lonely fires
that add a little light and comfort on
the mind's black stretching beach of night,
the shifting tide forgetfulness will rise
and snuff them out, when it has carried you,
who lit them off to sea. What fumbling hand
and wet will kindle up the blazes then?
It must be difficult to write a poem in character, especially in the character of someone who's supposed to be young and awkward. Even if you have the technical chops to write passable verse, you can't make it sound too accomplished. But I like the straightforwardness of the piece, which is polished but has only a few gaudy passages ("the mind's black stretching beach of night") that sound like the work of a self-conscious poet. Does the elegiac tone make her sound a bit too wise beyond her years? Perhaps, but it also gives her a bit of depth that, as a relatively minor character in a quite short book, she might not otherwise have had.

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