Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "The Theology of Cockroaches"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

The words of Sherman Alexie flow as smoothly as butter melting over warm flapjacks, and they are just as aromatic. Whether writing short stories, novels, or poetry, Alexie is a wordsmith of the most readable order. His tales take readers into the very heart and soul of contemporary Native American culture, detailing life on and around the reservation in hard and real terms: "...poverty, grinding and absolute, constant as gravity..." Yet his words also convey the the warmth of family and friendship, like the fuzzy comfort of a worn Indian blanket or an old dog sleeping at your feet.

Sherman Alexie is such a mesmerizing poet that I struggled to find something representative of his skills. The following, The Theology of Cockroaches, does provide a good gauge of his talents, but everything Alexie writes is worthy of reading and reading again.

This poem was taken from the volume, One Stick Song.

The Theology of Cockroaches
by Sherman Alexie

Diane says, it might have been
a cockroach
in the upstairs bathroom

though she cannot be positive
because she was otherwise distracted
and only saw it out of the corner
of her eyes, the cockroach

or rather, the potential cockroach
that scuttled along the baseboard
in the bathroom and vanished
before she could get a good look at it.

Have you ever seen a cockroach?
I ask her and she says, Of course
I have, I grew up in California
though I'm not sure what that means

because I've always associated
cockroaches with poverty, grinding
and absolute, constant as gravity
and though I've been poor

I've never been that poor, never
woke to a wall filled with cockroaches
spelling out my name, never
stepped into a dark room and heard

the cockroaches baying at the moon.
Diane saw the cockroach
in the bathroom, one of four bathrooms
in this large house. We are homeowners

and there is a cockroach
or the idea of a cockroach
in the bathroom, a cockroach
scuttling along the hardwood floors.

Did you get a good look at it?
I ask Diane and she says, No, but
it was fast, cockroach-fast.
Not beetle-fast, not

ant-fast, not even spider-fast
but cockroach-fast, disappearing
behind the magazine rack
in the bathroom, slipping

into the crack between floor
and baseboard. Impossible.
Impossible. Impossible.
Impossible. Impossible.

Impossible. The impossible cockroach
is not alone, I think, cockroaches
are never alone, never hermits, never
the last one on the ship, never

the one who dies alone.
Christopher Columbus was a cockroach
and look what followed him.
The cockroach, the cockroach

in the bathroom is watching us
as Diane and I explore
the smallest spaces between
toilet and wall, beneath the sink

and in the drawers that contain
the pieces of our life
together. The cockroach
is watching us as we discuss

our theories
to explain this cockroach:
the neighbors are remodeling
the old house next door, forcing

cockroaches to migrate, perhaps
fleeing from insecticide
and the sudden absence of food.
Maybe it wasn't a cockroach, I say

and Diane agrees. It could have been
any other kind of insect, it
could have been a hummingbird
for that matter, it could have been

an angel sent to test our faith, it
could have been God, God, God.
That cockroach, that angel
scuttles along the hardwood

and Diane sees it out of the corner
of her eye, in her
peripheral vision, and she believes
it was a cockroach

but she cannot be sure, she only
saw it for a brief moment. God
I ask Diane, how many humans have seen
God in person, truly seen God

take shape and form, how many?
Moses saw the Burning Bush, she says.
Moses, Moses, Moses, impossible Moses
scuttling along the hard wood

or was it Pharaoh? Or was the cockroach
on fire? Or was the cockroach
not a cockroach at all, but a visible prayer
a corporeal sin, a tiny piece

of forgiveness? Diane and I kneel
in our bathroom. We are searching
for the cockroach that might have been
a cockroach or nothing at all.


Tim said...

There have been times when I have read poetry and either thought to myself or said aloud my suspicion that poets (like all other artists) are mostly con artists arranging enigmatically medium/difficult words on a page, peppered with simple images in order to confuse would-be connoisseurs of the form into a frenzied state of concern that they might just be missing the point. That there couldn't possibly be nothing to all of that. I've felt the same way at art shows and while reading best-sellers and even at the movies--and I think, for the most part, that I am right.

So... it's nice to read a poem like this one with its simple and elegant message that I got without having to have it explained to me by a critic.

Great poem. Great choice. Thanks as always.

Pa Rock's Ramble said...

Thanks. I try to never post anything that I can't personally relate to. You have taught Alexie, so you know what a magnificent writer he is - elegant and understandable.