The sonnet is a basic way of thinking
poetically. A great sonnet formalizes the
inevitability of a logical arrival that is one of the great satisfactions of
poetry, while preserving negative capability, that mysterious quality named by
the greatest practitioner of the sonnet in the 19 th
century. The most important moment in the sonnet is the turn after
the octet: the moment of the argument that slingshots
us from first looking into Chapman’s Homer to standing silent on a peak in
What is Betsy Wheeler’s original form, the non-sonnet? The feedback-chambery internal rhyme of the very phrase makes an argument that lyricism can contain non-sense and great thinking at once. Betsy Wheeler’s poems argue that only by penetrating fully into and through the ordinary sense of words will we get to a crucial emotional event heretofore only sensed in its outlines.
Sheer attention is at first the subject of “Non-Sonnet for the Phrase ‘But I believe’.” Time is unstable, the Basil Dove (a rare collector’s stamp) comes alive in the mail after being “accidentally licked and posted,” autumn is shimmering away. Why? At the run-up to the turn, the voice changes, speeds up, starts situating itself with an awesome lyric confidence: “To the waitress I said wondermeat meaning/ wonderment . Meaning I wonder where you are, and/ how you spend your wooden nickels.” Individual line breaks catapult us from one thought to the next. The poem stays free as it becomes more formal. In the tradition of the true sonnet, this poem works itself into understanding loss of love through force of intellect and appreciation for the possibility of words.
Other poems have the great confidence, the exhilarating mixture of wild surmise and contemporary diction (“Last night, while sleeping, I bent everything I own/ in half – woke up sandwiched in my bed and tried/ to read the alarm clock’s pile of glowing language.”), and the relentless attention of a talented, electric and generous poetic mind. I love the way they think.
NON-SONNET FOR THE PHRASE “BUT I BELIEVE.”
This afternoon slowly flaking away in sheaths.
grandfathered in. Collector’s stamps
accidentally licked and posted, the Basil Dove
heckling the rest of the postal pouch.
Leaves faking change and then the guard.
To the waitress I said wondermeat meaning
wonderment. Meaning I wonder where you are, and
how you spend your wooden nickels. Every cup
of coffee after counts as addiction but nothing
compared to how much I miss you. Your gleeful,
airless laugh. Your lashes lashing. Languishing.
Pinioned stars say I am both born and dying
in love’s mystery. Penelope weaving and unweaving
her weaving. I say I do not believe. I do not believe.
NON-SONNET FOR A DRYING MOON
Last night, while sleeping, I bent everything I own
in half—woke up sandwiched in my bed and tried
to read the alarm clock’s pile of glowing language.
What would Martha do to a room bent all in half?
She’s unavailable for comment now, it’s true,
but do you, also you, tell the truth only half of the time?
In the middle of every week and once on Sunday,
gardeners work over the entirety of my neighbor’s back yard.
It’s pretty loud. They have a hot tub that they never use.
I would use it. I could use a lot of things. I could use,
for instance, the piece of paper that notates
how many times today you thought of me.
I’ve been sitting in my cardboard office all day. You don’t know
the half of it. And now the late afternoon light in all its warmly
cantankerous glow. I almost forgot to mention the leaves,
glazed as they are now with tangerine. Can you see them?
COMPARTMENT FOR HOMECOMING
Her moon is wrung.
Red halo, lipstick kiss
of cherry fire Oh—
it’s too too bright to see
with only this light.
She had been swimming.
No—dripping, she came
from the marsh, hair spliced
with whistling reeds. Backlit
shadows in the upper-right-hand
corner of her mind; hands building
a rabbit, a fist, a five. They sign:
A ruin, this swim was. A ruin.
Did you see the scalded shadows,
black swans not made for mating?
It’s a playback bird choir on chirp repeat.
Been everywhere now. Felt it in the skin.
For all the magistrates who poke at our paneled walls.
For every discarded weapon, every necklace and every ring.
For every hunger and the riot to fulfill.
For the terrifying sleep. She is dead.
A spider ascends and the moon is brown like March.
This morning he’s woven over the shrubs, veils of silk
lifting like a fog—we can’t see the leaves or what inner
worlds the matter needs to speak to.
A woman is dead in a shallow—in the shadows, a woman is dead.
That grave, not a grave, where she lays she is dead. Pieces of earth flag
heaven to heaven. Hush-hush, and a hush—the dew. A woman has died.
If we breathe droplets over the tray of lace
we could—could we?—find his wise poison.
A woman is dead. Little fish, little fish dead with her too.
For every floating candle, every phone call never coming--
for every blissful, splitting orgasm we covet and look toward,
our faces are so open to little deaths,
For every fire that I have fired, and I have, I cannot sleep between.
For I am curt and you are killed. For we are beaten.
And for you, little dust mote floating, you are the lightest
shroud to creep over, and yes, between, our dark secrets.
The attic window is wearing a lacy day-shroud.
Come quickly, it says, something harrowing scampers
behind my wide white draping. How badly
do you want to look? I think badly.
Given the patience I know it takes to slide
slowly over smooth, white bones toward
bee-stung lips, I’m inclined to say you’ll
get right down to scuttling on over there.
But if I call you nasty dreamer will you still come
back to play? What if I ruin all simple dreams
in one fell swoop? Tell you that any man who goes
peeping into night-dreams will surely find his
woman is a wolf: her dressing gown
an eyelet veil, her eyes beneath it stoked.
Waking to spread all over the lawn,
its eyes glazed-over while softly it hums Silver
Bells, Silver Bells, and already I cradle
tomorrow in my mouth. All along
cloth speakers ring O Come, O Come,
O Come all Ye until nightfall finally comes.
I’m still waiting for a power chord, a Russian bard,
the triumphant return of lost marbles. Shooters. Cat’s-eyes.
Cat’s-eyes: the deepest sphere to look to, hardest
to look at, they look back at you, too true, saying
it was always you you you. And what now to do.
Bend down to faithful. Sidle over to soon.
Believe in the fuss that could spell the bell-ringer.
Believe in a that could bury me whole.
NON-SONNET WITH ITS HIND LEG LIMPING
Not last night but the night before, bardic
double-dutch skipped up to high-stakes.
Faster, Faster! Muster the rubber soles!
Tournament for pole position! What’s
on the line needs toughening anyway.
Who sluiced an entrance today while windy
windy weather we all jumped together?
Climb down my rain barrel into the cellar door,
and we’ll be: the mackerel poor, the nevermore.
And dear Lenore!
Where is our punchy Laureate, these days?
Cue up the beat-box; You walk and I’ll scroll.
NON-SONNET FOR FREE SPEECH ZONES
The wire rabbit in the looking-glass past
has forgotten his stuttering sculptor.
One side of his visage is bare of whiskers,
thus he orbits the realm of abstraction
and surrealist interpretation. You want
to give him food. I want to bend his ear
toward me and spout my theory on the missing
bones of Paleo-Indian I. No one listens
to the hairy bones of the catfish. I say they
were abducted. Soon the rabbit’s barbed
cohort will arrive and they will bind themselves
as fences made for catching foxes. Smart little rabbit,
how do you keep from rusting in the rain?
Wafting my hand around your borders, I test the pickled air.
I see the tools of penning and believe you are no cage.