Words are always messy, Sundays are rotten, and love is not enough. This is what we learn from Lesley Wheeler's poem "Mysteries," a sly, lilting poem written in a tone that belies its thudding message of messy, rotten, not-enough-ness. What Lesley does by managing this balance is to create a space into which to retreat from the mundane (which is why any of us read mystery novels in the first place, right?).
Well, yes. There's that. But i still can't get away from the poem's deeper truth. That the things the poet most wants release from aren't the household chores, the to-do lists, the washing up. In this poem "the beasts" aren't just the children and they're not only at the zoo; they are the disembodied voices that can't be shushed, and the bodies these voices belong to that can't be sussed out. A detective's job is to gather even the most elusive of crime-scene clues, and then make sense of them. It's also the poet's job.
The clothes dryer whispers, what are you reading,
but Peter Wimsey and I ignore it,
not being Christian, preferring to keep
inhuman voices out of our fictions.
What’s it about, the machine persists, mind
tumbling with questions, damp corduroys, mismatched
socks. Where are your children? The beasts
are at the zoo, I snap, and it is Sunday
and this is the good part so leave me alone.
Don’t reply to impertinent curiosity,
advises Lord Peter, you will only
encourage it. Old bindings crack a little
further, comfortably, having given up
on appearances. The drier hisses on.
How many beautiful autumn days left,
and you on the couch, squeak the clean sneakers,
and the problems in novels are oh so
tidy, sighs the towel. Words are always messy,
I counter: smeared with odors, prickly with half-
remembered tunes. The paper detective agrees.
We must be rude to the dryer because Sundays
are rotten, and love is not enough, and
the laundry insists on haunting me, and Bunter
will not materialize to show it the door.
About the Poet:
Lesley Wheeler's most recent book is Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Poetry Prize; her other books include Heathen (C&R, 2009) and Voicing American Poetry (Cornell, 2008). She will spend the first half of 2011 in New Zealand as a Fulbright Senior Research Fellow. She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
On the identity of The Nepotist:
The Nepotist is obviously the creation of a devious literary critic from the distant future constructing an earth-shattering retrospective "discovery"--that the very best poets of the early twenty-first century, thought to have been unknown to one another, will turn out to have been caught up in a tremendously important but heretofore completely unheard-of poetic movement known as "Nepotism" that thrived in the last few months before Thor's Virus wiped out the entire internet. The mastermind behind The Nepotist will thereby earn the last tenured position in literary studies in the northern hemisphere, all remaining classes being taught by robots, who do not require health benefits and who can be programmed to vote yes on all administrators' proposals in faculty meetings.