Nothing ever happens: a sex-fiend is at the wheel of the train.
Is this the way out? Yes, but flies crawl downwards.
I have a picture of Saturn.
The situation has changed:
it is the wrong kind of number.
The babies are crying. Well, then, it must be a holiday.
It is green. If you like you can say the same.
“Diabetes is on the increase.”
It is the Americas: they are pushing me
into something almost final like the end of summer.
I am not Lord Tennyson but this is as close as I can get.
Neither boy nor girl but more than motivated.
In my hand is a streetmap of X.
Yesterday is a revolution:
how and why are details.
Water smells roses. A fallen petal on wet flagstones.
White girls push white babies: the loss and gnashing of teats.
“What counts is a failed life.”
That’s it, plus the death of voices.
(The sound of a typewriter. A man smoking.)
Review by Frederick Pollack
At first glance, “Synthesis” is an Ashberian or “Language-school” poem: a drift of non-sequiturs, unified (if at all) by tone and faint association. Upon rereading, a structure appears that is grim, funny, and tight. In the first line (Nothing ever happens: a sex-fiend is at the wheel of the train), the colon can be seen as the fulcrum of a scale, to its left a “thesis,” to its right an “antithesis.” The pattern continues: Is this the way out? Yes, but flies crawl downwards. Is the way out we seek the same one the flies mysteriously reject? Apparently. In no case are “thesis” and “antithesis” self-evidently related, but our sense of repeated balancing persists. The impression is strong enough that the various un-balanced statements (I have a picture of Saturn. ’Diabetes is on the increase.’ ’What counts is a failed life.’) achieve an apodictic weight, seem to advance a larger argument. Political overtones – … the Americas … are pushing me / into something almost final; Yesterday is a revolution: / how and why are details – feel significant in the context of that failed life and the death of voices.
From Is this the way out? on, the diction in this poem reminds one of the later Wittgenstein’s flat, constructivist examples of “language-games.” For me the only false note comes in the last line: (The sound of a typewriter. A man smoking.). Why this older technology? Nothing else in the poem seems dated; nor is the theme historically restricted. That theme, briefly, is that there is no synthesis – no experience of integration, no redemption; the title is a promise that cannot, at least in our era, be fulfilled.