Monday, April 5, 2010

Figure of Speech

This poem was included in my MFA manuscript, and it's been through a lot of changes since I wrote it during my undergrad. At the time I was into Robert Hass, so I started writing poems in sections. I think it may still need some more something, but here it is for now! A side note: I can't get this to appear exactly as it's laid out on the page, but hopefully that doesn't affect the reading of it much!

Figure of Speech
Cyndle Plaisted Rials

What is the figure of speech, of stylistic perfection,
expression lovely— out loud or on the page, what is
the most attractive shape?

Ask Calvin Klein:

The figure of speech
is heroin chic
barest minimum frame
for the meaning to hang--
fabulous designer clothing.

Peter Paul Rubens:
She is luxurious, fleshy
luminescent and full-bodied
with Truth—the figure of speech
is fully revelatory and glorious.

Hugh Heffner:
The right figure
is not one of speech! Sex sells, yes,
tanned skin, platinum hair,
the biggest breasts
imaginable. A picture is worth
a million dollars; words
are for people without sex appeal.


It was words for me. Puns
made me laugh, plays on words—my Jack the Ripper
joke that people in my class, people
my age, never understood:

What did Jack the Ripper’s friends say about his skills with women?

He was a real lady-killer!

Maybe it was the oldness
of the colloquialism that made the other kids
not laugh, think I was weird; it was a turn
of phrase that they might have heard
if they liked their grandparents’ TV shows.


A metaphor is not a carte blanche,
not in this world where the slightest reference
calls up numerous entries in a rolodex, some splotched
faded, or no longer accurate—
no association is really free. Poetry
is not psychoanalytic therapy.


The caricature doctor says: white.

wash, wall, wide, wing, sing, span

I think you’re getting a bit carried away. Let’s try this
again. Black.

ball, bat, blood, blend, mend, mink

Clearly you’re not even trying. What do you hope to gain from this

Once I let them go, they are not quite mine
anymore, the phrases I utter,
the way I hear them when I say them—
feel free to misquote me. They do.

What are the words,
the little many lots of words
in a hundred thousand shades
that become re-colored with every use?

What does it mean when I and an Atheist
say Jesus Christ?


The figure of lines on a page—like posts
where signs hang, streetlamps, lines
like uneven fences.
Maybe the meaning is not just the configuration,
but it is actually beyond
the margins, something humming
in the air around the lines and paragraphs
scratched and marked
in my straight up-and-down penmanship.
I was sketching, between the words,
the curving hips of a woman’s body.
Something true, the skin and flesh
of an inspired woman, the speech and figure,
fourth finger callused, dirty from pen ink.

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