A simple poem would be content travelling
Back from the future to transfer its burden
Of knowledge about the present, but this one
Stays in that present, unable to see
Anything beyond the overrun square.
Or mistakes seeing for having just talked,
Waits there with permanent demands….
That one too is ultimately simple,
As simple as having something to say
About death (it’s partially total),
As simple as Egypt if Egypt were
To live forever on the edges of the square
(Twenty years from now the square is gone).
The complex poem admits all this
From a counter-present the future denies
All knowledge of, where talking looks
Like seeing and seeing writes it down
Whether or not in the order it should
It comes. The peaceful transfer of
Power from the past to the future
Sees the end of a present, escorted
By sand. It’s also the complex poem
Made simple, so everyone can
Use it as easily as a banner
And the crowd a crowd of conductors
(In twenty years the poem will be music)
For a time held wide enough open
We were the palm trees near the beach
Whose edges are ragged and not yet
Betrayed. And then there is
The compound poem, what happens when
The simple and complex meet
In the middle distance of live feeds,
A wind in the palms. Totally at last
The present is all talking parts.
Geoffrey G. O’Brien is the author of Metropole (2011), Green and Gray (2007) and The Guns and Flags Project (2002), all from The University of California Press, and coauthor (in collaboration with the poet Jeff Clark) of 2A (Quemadura, 2006). He teaches in the English Department at UC Berkeley and also teaches for the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison.