This is a poem about hope-filled dreams. About how every single one of us tries to plan out our lives to be that perfect, ideal, and elaborately-detailed vision that we may never be able to live up to. But, oh, it’s such a bittersweet pleasure to weave these exotic threads together endlessly in our imaginations, isn’t it? To add more and more color and texture with each re-imagining till, after several such “planning” sessions, we’ve practically lived that other life more vividly and more fully without having to take a single step. Because, of course, the practical act of taking any such steps is fraught with insurmountable roadblocks, uncertain consequences and/or impossible necessities. So that we are often more content with the soft cocooning warmth that our daydreams offer than the cold vulnerability of a wide-open, unknown world. Even as we read this poem, the intimate, cozy images are pleasing to us, whether they describe our particular life-plan or not. We sense, and inhabit in a very immediate and engaging way, the spaces that the speaker describes to us.
A number of my poems, particularly in Evenings & Avenues and Dig Safe use narrative strategies such as persona, dialogue and point of view — but these are also qualities common to the dramatic and lyric poem. The Aristotelian classifications have interbred over the course of twenty five hundred years — yet I think it is still useful to see that certain poems are essentially driven by narrative, dramatic, or lyric strategies. Here I must additionally confess that I am a failed fiction writer — that what I might have put into a short story worked better for me in a poem. And when I meet people for lunch or a drink I generally would rather hear them tell some incidents than give me their observations or analysis unless they are brilliant. So I think that poems of mine that might be regarded as narrative owe as much to dramatic and lyric elements.
This particular poem is from Dischell’s first full-length book of poems. ‘Good Hope Road‘ and was selected by Thomas Lux as one of the five 1991 “National Poetry” series winners. One distinctive aspect of this collection is that there are several poems that depict solitary apartment dwellers. Dischell has called this his “apartment series of poems”. In all the stories that these poems tell, Dischell uses a seemingly easy charm and grace to show us many emotions and experiences from various angles such that we are not only drawn irresistibly into the stories but also feel a deep compassion for the subjects.
The poem starts with a very clear line that gives us both the subject and the setting. A young writer who dreams of Paris, the city of artists and writers. This is an earnest kind of writer who knows that writing is also a process and a craft and that a certain atmosphere is required to work through that process and polish one’s craft.
The many specific details about the Paris apartment and its surroundings certainly imply that this young writer has either been there before or that she’s read enough about it to be able to cinematically visualize the aspects that she loves best. What makes these details remarkable is how she has weaved in her own actions and behaviors with them. That makes the dream more of a sensory experience for her (and for us, as we read about it).
The last ten lines of the poem bring both the girl and us back down to earth. Her keen awareness of her existing surroundings, decidedly more pedestrian and mundane than the one her lively mind has been conjuring up, help us understand her steely determination to escape it all for good. And the scaffolding on which she has weaved her entire flimsy web is revealed in those final two lines: “The fortune in a cookie told her: Picture what you wish // To become, if you wish to become that picture.” Doesn’t that just make your heart go out to her? And, doesn’t it make you regard fellow human beings around you with just a little more tolerance — knowing that, like you and like this girl in the poem, they, too, are going about their daily lives with impossibly beautiful dreams breathing and pulsing deep inside? In the end, it isn’t the eventual achievements of our dreams that keep us alive but the ability to keep on dreaming.
She plans to be a writer one day and live in the City of Paris,
Where she will describe the sun as it rises over Buttes-Chaumont.
“Today the dawn began in small pieces, sharp wedges of light
Broke through the clouds.” She plans to write better than this
And is critic enough to know “sharp wedges” sound like cheese.
She plans to live alone in a place that has a terrace
Where she will drink strong coffee at a round white table.
Her terrace will be her cafe and she will be recognized
By the blue-smocked workers of the neighborhood, the concierges,
The locals at the comptoir of the tabac down the block,
And the girl under the green cross of the apothecary shop.
She plans to love her apartment where she will keep
Just one flower in a blue vase. She already loves the word apart-
Ment, whose halves please her when she sees them breaking
The line in her journal. She plans to learn the roots
Of French and English words and will search them out
As if she were hunting skulls in the catacombs.
On her walls she’ll hang a timetable of the great events
Of Western History. She will read the same twenty books
As Chaucer. Every morning she will make up stories….
She looks around her Brighton room, at the walls,
The ceiling, the round knob of the rectangular door.
She listens to the voices of the neighbor’s children.
A toilet flushes, then the tamp of cigarette on steel,
The flint flash of her roommate’s boyfriend’s lighter.
When she leaves she plans to leave alone, and every
Article she will carry, each shoe, will be important.
Like an architect she will plan this life, as once
The fortune in a cookie told her: Picture what you wish
To become, if you wish to become that picture.
~ Stuart Dischell, ‘Good Hope Road‘