This poem is aware of its mistakes
and doesn’t care. This poem wants to be a poem
so bad, it’ll show you a young smitten pair
poised in an S on a down bed. The man inhales
the woman’s sweet hair and whole fields
of honeysuckle and jasmine bloom inside him.
He inhabits a breath like an anodyne and I think
I could call this poem an aubade if it detailed
new breath departing his mouth. I think I could
get away with that. Because who knows what
that even means? Maybe I mean that’s safer
than saying its straight
like, This is about the woman I’ll marry.…
In his introduction to this poem at Cave Canem reading (about the 59:10 mark), Wicker spoke of how, as an editor of a literary journal, he saw poems come in cycles. “This is from the season of aubades….An aubade is a morning song written for lovers departing; all the aubades I was reading at the time were these overly detailed, sort of dainty poems. I decided I’d write my own and make fun of it, but then something happened.” Something happened all right: he tripped over a truth.
I love self-referential literature, so this, with the poem and poet wondering about themselves, trying to get away with something, sneak one by us, was right up my alley. What’s really interesting, though, is that the morning farewell, the epiphany, is not during this romantic scene, but (if I’m reading correctly) the next morning when he’s writing the poem ; the breath he is in the midst of when he realizes what he saw is not the soothing one of the night before, or the new breath (which, as he says, who knows what it means, but it sounds like the sort of vaguely romantic thing that would be in an aubade) but just an ordinary breath. Maybe we have our epiphanies in romantic fog, but until the fog clears we don’t realize they were indeed epiphanies.
Time for a digression. I love digressions.
I’ve recently been blogging my way through Euclid’s The Elements, a 2300-year old textbook of basic geometry. It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds. For instance, one of the nuggets I stumbled across was a discussion of the use of several forms of the Greek word “ἐπιφάνεια”, the root of our present-day “epiphany”, to mean “surface”, either of a two-dimensional plane figure like a square or a circle, or of a three-dimensional object like a cube or cylinder. It is, says Sir Thomas L. Heath in his noted translation and commentary of the work, “the feature of a body which is apparent to the eye”.
I’ve usually thought of an epiphany as something that was hidden before a particular moment. Perhaps it would be closer to its meaning to think of it as something that’s brought to the surface – or, perhaps, something that was there all along, but we weren’t looking in the right place. When Wicker writes his clever mock-aubade of the moment from the night before, he somehow sees what was apparent, all along, right there on the surface, and in this interruption, he discovers a genuine aubade.