Where did you come from, lamentable quality?
Before I had a life you were about to ruin my life.
The mystery of this stays with me.
“Don’t brood about things,” my elders said.
I hadn’t any other experience of enemies from inside.
They were all from outside–big boys
Who cursed me and hit me; motorists; falling trees.
All these you were as bad as, yet inside. When I spoke, you were
I could avoid you by singing or acting.
I acted in school plays but was no good at singing.
Immediately after the play you were there again.
You ruined the cast party.
You were not a sign of confidence.
You were not a sign of manliness.
You were stronger than good luck and bad; you survived them
You were slowly edged out of my throat by psychoanalysis
You who had been brought in, it seems, like a hired thug
To beat up both sides and distract them
From the main issue: oedipal love. You were horrible!
Tell them, now that you’re back in your thug country,
That you don’t have to be so rough next time you’re called in
But can be milder and have the same effect–unhappiness and
§ Kenneth Koch
This rhetorical stance is one that Koch used more than once, if I recall correctly, this talking to qualities or past history personified. I’d like to try my hand at this stance some day, brainstorm times and personal traits that have yet to be fully explored and then speak to them directly. My hunch here is that unexpected conclusions would arise naturally and much that lies buried in the grey would gently lighten into morning. Certainly, fearlessness in the face of the past and one’s flaws would be required, as would plenty of time and space to let words percolate upon the page. You’d have to be feeling strong to try it. Or desperate for solace, perhaps.
At any rate, Koch’s accessible yet insightful poems rarely fail to intrigue me, and I hope that this one will offer a point of reflection on the idiosyncrasies, flaws, or failings that signal it’s time to reflect on matters we’d rather let lie.