Ann Lauterbach, And for Example (New York: Penguin, 1994)
the poem, then a brief essay
Rancor of the Empirical
A lavish pilgrim, her robes unbound,
checks into a nearby hotel.
Let us spread the wealth.
Let us speak in such a way
we are understood, as a shadow
is understood to assuage these prisms
and these mercurial clasps. She was told
yes and she was told no
which is how she became excessive, spilling
over the sequestered path, her wild garments
She took pills against rain.
She slept under tinfoil.
In that country, there were no heroes
to invent a way to fill the hours
with parables of longing, so her dreams
were blank. Sometimes she imagined
voices which led to her uneven gait
and to her partial song. Once she was seen
running. A child said he saw her fly
low over the back meadow and into the pines, her
feet raving in wind. The child
was punished for lying, made to eat ashes
in front of the congregation. The priest said,
You have made a petty story. Now enter duration.
I love this poem by Ann Lauterbach, which speaks to the sad consequences of the repression of desire and the imagination, with echoes of Puritanism and the Platonic distrust of poetry. The allegorical “lavish pilgrim” enters a new country where no poets are born, or else if they are (like the visionary boy who is able to see the spirit of desire), they are punished by puritanical clergy, made to “eat ashes” (associated with death and penitence) and “enter duration,” presumably a monochromatic place of temporal stasis. There are no “heroes” of the imagination to compose “parables of longing” and unleash the latent desires of a populace. Continue reading