There Ought to Be a Law Against Henry
given his showing up to teach at the U disheveled, jittery cigarette and cigarette and probably the drink, losing the very way there over river, river of all song, all American story which starts way north of St. Paul quiet or undone wandering south, not enraged mostly, something stranger. That’s one epic shard of John Berryman anyway. Notorious. And par for the course in a classroom destined, struck-by-lightning in sacred retrospect, the kind those long-ago students now can’t believe themselves so accidentally chosen, grateful though one probably claimed the poet absolutely bonkers then, out of his tree toward the end, so went the parlance. Wasn’t he always late—Give them back, Weirdo!—with those brilliant papers they eked out, small dim-lit hours when a big fat beer would’ve been nice. Really nice. Fuck him, I hear that kid most definitely blurting were he young right now though the others— From the get-go their startle and reverence. But not even that malcontent did the damning I can’t believe they gave him tenure. Here’s where I think something else, think of course it’s the Dream Songs that rattled him until— as grandparents used to say—he couldn’t see straight. Like Dickinson’s bits of shock and light did her in between naps and those letters to some vague beloved unattainable. Or Plath, her meticulous crushing fog. Maybe closer to Milton working his blindness—literally blind rage, if you want to talk rage—into pages soaked through with triumphant failure and rhyme, always that high orchestration, that alpha/omega big voice thing. And Satan, after all, as wise guy and looming because for chrissake, Jack, get an interesting character in there! Someone must have lobbed that right. All along, Berryman: how those Dream Songs surely loosened a bolt or a wheel in his orderly scholar-head, must have come at him like Michael the Archangel, 77 days of winged flash searing him to genius, some kind of whack-a-mole version. Maybe like Gabriel cutting that starry celebrity deal for a most dubious conception in the desert, near a fig tree, no proper human mechanics required. At last Berryman’s rage wasn’t rage but sorrow turned back on itself. With teeth. Henry my hero of crankiness and feigned indifference, unspeakable industry, exhaustion and grief, half funny-crazy, half who-knows-what- that-line-means. A henry whole universe of Henry, of there ought to be a law against Henry—pause and pause—Mister Bones: there is. Will be! Was! Not to say poetry’s worth it or the most healthy fascination for the sane. I’m just, I mean—is this love? There’s break, as in lucky, as in shatter. There’s smitten and there’s smite.
Copyright © 2018 by Marianne Boruch. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.