Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet Paula J. Lambert, author of The Sudden Seduction of Gravity. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Paula and each other, and write your own poems along the way.
The Burden of Too Much Meaning
for Amy Newman
Tart. A flaky fruit pastry.
Tart. A sharp, sour flavor.
Tart. A woman, a whore.
Tart. Say it enough, and it loses meaning.
You just hear the t’s that open and close,
the r that rolls through the middle: tart.
The tender pastry has nothing to do
with the whore, but that doesn’t mean
one won’t be mistaken for the other.
If a man says, “I’ve always loved
a good tart,” we are wont to question:
his meaning, his character, his choice
of words or women. Perhaps the pun
was intended, to entertain the baker,
irritate his wife, or make someone
who doesn’t matter laugh. But maybe
not. Words don’t always convey what
we want, what we mean, what we need.
Like the tart, sometimes they signify
more. Often though, like loss, like death,
like meaning itself, they don’t deliver
enough. So we explicate meaning out of
words any dictionary could have defined:
people, places, and things; transitive and
intransitive verbs. What does it mean
to fall? It isn’t always a drop to the ground,
a plunge, a descent, a tumble. (And it matters
whether or not you were pushed.) Fall means:
broken. Fall means: sick. Fall means: hurt.
Fall means: we don’t believe you. We fell
from the garden. We fell from grace. We
fell among bad company. We fell short.
Fall is a season. Opposite of springtime,
neighbor to summer and winter, fall is in
between. Fall is leaving. Fall is color. Fall
is crisp, clean air. Fall is a young child in
an old sheet, and it is frightening. Fall
is a cornucopia harvest of fruit: apples
for those pastries and pies. Fall is full of thanks.
We are thankful because fall is over. (Is it
over? Define angry.) Stop. What, after all,
is this desire for meaning, this desperate need
to be understood? Think of a woman who is
not a tart. Maybe a baker. Maybe a wife.
Maybe someone you once made laugh.
Falling matters, to her.