Having finished another book for my Southern Lit class (it was no Faulkner, that's for sure), I was able to also read Tryfon Tolides's An Almost Pure Empty Walking. I was not blown away by it, but there were several poems I liked a great deal. When he's on, he has that mysterious, knowing European style that stays with me, like a Zagajewski or Milosz or Cavafy (to take the Greek thing too far). When he's off, there's a too-Jack-Gilbert-for-my-liking quality. Not that the poems are bad, but they just don't speak to me as much as I would like. I'll need to read it again to verify my first impressions, but those five, six, or seven poems that grabbed me are still hanging around. (As Bill said during my thesis meetings and other times: "A good first book needs five or six very good poems to be successful." I'm not entirely sure about that math, not these days with the glut of manuscripts coming from all these MFAs and PhDs, but so it goes.) And here's one poem I've come back to several times the past couple days.
Not for a Reason
Tonight at the train station
with the red metal seats
in Syracuse. We walked up the ramp,
then beyond the few people
on the platform. I wasn't looking
at her legs, though I've taken the shape
of her knees into my palms before,
followed from heel to calf, up and up,
she being my future wife, maybe,
though we keep saying yes,
and I should say yes here, not maybe,
because she and I both believe
strongly, but people have believed before
and still it has stopped being.
The train came, left.
I walked from beyond the few
people on the platform (who had gone
by then) where we had been,
holding. Legs can't look off into a distance
somewhere, as eyes can,
filled with thinking something unthought.
Legs can do that, too, walking
in cemeteries, back to the car, through fog,
even when there is no distance.
- Tryfon Tolides, An Almost Pure Empty Walking