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Self-Portrait At 28 Analysis

Author: poem of David Berman Type: poem Views: 10

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I know it's a bad title

but I'm giving it to myself as a gift

on a day nearly canceled by sunlight

when the entire hill is approaching

the ideal of Virginia

brochured with goldenrod and loblolly

and I think "at least I have not woken up

with a bloody knife in my hand"

by then having absently wandered

one hundred yards from the house

while still seated in this chair

with my eyes closed.

It is a certain hill

the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"

and if the apocalypse turns out

to be a world-wide nervous breakdown

if our five billion minds collapse at once

well I'd call that a surprise ending

and this hill would still be beautiful

a place I wouldn't mind dying

alone or with you.

I am trying to get at something

and I want to talk very plainly to you

so that we are both comforted by the honesty.

You see there is a window by my desk

I stare out when I am stuck

though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write

and I don't know why I keep staring at it.

My childhood hasn't made good material either

mostly being a mulch of white minutes

with a few stand out moments,

popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer

a certain amount of pride at school

everytime they called it "our sun"

and playing football when the only play

was "go out long" are what stand out now.

If squeezed for more information

I can remember old clock radios

with flipping metal numbers

and an entree called Surf and Turf.

As a way of getting in touch with my origins

every night I set the alarm clock

for the time I was born so that waking up

becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do

     is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like

     when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn

     the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.

II two

I can't remember being born

and no one else can remember it either

even the doctor who I met years later

at a cocktail party.

It's one of the little disappointments

that makes you think about getting away

going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables

and taking a room on the square

with a landlady whose hands are scored

by disinfectant, telling the people you meet

that you are from Alaska, and listen

to what they have to say about Alaska

until you have learned much more about Alaska

than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.

Sometimes I am buying a newspaper

in a strange city and think

"I am about to learn what it's like to live here."

Oftentimes there is a news item

about the complaints of homeowners

who live beside the airport

and I realize that I read an article

on this subject nearly once a year

and always receive the same image.

I am in bed late at night

in my house near the airport

listening to the jets fly overhead

a strange wife sleeping beside me.

In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation

of various cold medicine commercial sets

(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).

I know these recurring news articles are clues,

flaws in the design though I haven't figured out

how to string them together yet,

but I've begun to notice that the same people

are dying over and over again,

for instance Minnie Pearl

who died this year

for the fourth time in four years.

III three

Today is the first day of Lent

and once again I'm not really sure what it is.

How many more years will I let pass

before I take the trouble to ask someone?

It reminds of this morning

when you were getting ready for work.

I was sitting by the space heater

numbly watching you dress

and when you asked why I never wear a robe

I had so many good reasons

I didn't know where to begin.

If you were cool in high school

you didn't ask too many questions.

You could tell who'd been to last night's

big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.

You didn't have to ask

and that's what cool was:

the ability to deduct

to know without asking.

And the pressure to simulate coolness

means not asking when you don't know,

which is why kids grow ever more stupid.

A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises

to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness

of a teenager's promise. Not like I'm dying

for a letter from the class stoner

ten years on but...

Do you remember the way the girls

would call out "love you!"

conveniently leaving out the "I"

as if they didn't want to commit

to their own declarations.

I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept

and hope you won't get uncomfortable

if I should go into some deeper stuff here.

IV four

There are things I've given up on

like recording funny answering machine messages.

It's part of growing older

and the human race as a group

has matured along the same lines.

It seems our comedy dates the quickest.

If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes

I hope you won't be insulted

if I say you're trying too hard.

Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live

seem slow-witted and obvious now.

It's just that our advances are irrepressible.

Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.

It makes people too self-conscious about the past,

though try explaining that to a kid.

I'm not saying it should be this way.

All this new technology

will eventually give us new feelings

that will never completely displace the old ones

leaving everyone feeling quite nervous

and split in two.

We will travel to Mars

even as folks on Earth

are still ripping open potato chip

bags with their teeth.

Why? I don't have the time or intelligence

to make all the connections

like my friend Gordon

(this is a true story)

who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts

and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree

until I brought it up.

He'd never broken the name down to its parts.

By then it was too late.

He had moved to Coral Gables.

V five

The hill out my window is still looking beautiful

suffused in a kind of gold national park light

and it seems to say,

I'm sorry the world could not possibly

use another poem about Orpheus

but I'm available if you're not working

on a self-portrait or anything.

I'm watching my dog have nightmares,

twitching and whining on the office floor

and I try to imagine what beast

has cornered him in the meadow

where his dreams are set.

I'm just letting the day be what it is:

a place for a large number of things

to gather and interact --

not even a place but an occasion

a reality for real things.

Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic

or religious with this piece:

"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic

or religious," but these are valid topics

and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor

possibly dreaming of me

that part of me that would beat a dog

for no good reason

no reason that a dog could see.

I am trying to get at something so simple

that I have to talk plainly

so the words don't disfigure it

and if it turns out that what I say is untrue

then at least let it be harmless

like a leaky boat in the reeds

that is bothering no one.

VI six

I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,

many of them having blended with sentimental

telephone and margarine commercials

plainly ruined by Madison Avenue

though no one seems to call the advertising world

"Madison Avenue" anymore. Have they moved?

Let's get an update on this.

But first I have some business to take care of.

I walked out to the hill behind our house

which looks positively Alaskan today

and it would be easier to explain this

if I had a picture to show you

but I was with our young dog

and he was running through the tall grass

like running through the tall grass

is all of life together

until a bird calls or he finds a beer can

and that thing fills all the space in his head.

You see,

his mind can only hold one thought at a time

and when he finally hears me call his name

he looks up and cocks his head

and for a single moment

my voice is everything:

Self-portrait at 28.

Anonymous submission.


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