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April 2017, vol 13 no 1

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Charles Tarlton,

Three Reflections on Montaigne's Essays


1. Bad Blood

[T]hey yet do worse than these, who reserve the animosity against their neighbor to the last gasp...
                                                – Michel de Montaigne

You almost never hear of it these days, I mean people bearing such unrelenting grudges that they feud away their whole lives. There was a man I used to know who didn’t speak to his father for thirty years and when his father died he was completely at a loss. Death putting an end to their quarrel (the origins of which had long been forgotten) without resolving it, he was a ship with no rudder, a dry leaf blown along on the wind.

someone he hated
long ago just disappeared
and he felt himself
weakening like an athlete
who was getting out of shape

a life so defined
that it was held together
around his hatred
like the hub of a turning
wheel. It gave him a center

he woke from a dream
his demons drifting away
everyone had died
so he found fault with himself
there was no one else to blame

2. Do You Think We Are Afraid?

Such as are in immediate fear of a losing their estates, of banishment, or of slavery, live in perpetual anguish, and lose all appetite and repose; whereas such as are actually poor, slaves, or exiles, ofttimes live as merrily as other folk.
                                                 – Michel de Montaigne

There is a kind of bravery that consists in pretending not to be afraid. Layers of talk conceal feelings that run wild underneath. This bravery is hopeful, pretending what is most feared will not happen. How else could the soldier climb out of his trench and rush the enemy’s guns or the cancer patient go under the knife? What’s the worst that could happen? they bravely ask.

in a dangerous
place with dangerous people
it’s best not to think
about all that could happen
– take it one step at a time

they were letting me
go. My fate hung in the air
what would I do?
– then I was outside and saw
that the sun was still shining

it could be reversed
but then what do we call it
the lust to be more
than just poor, hungry, and lost
to be noble, to be rich?

3. Act and Scene

I have no more made my book than my book has made me: ‘tis a book consubstantial with the author, of a peculiar design, a parcel of my life, and whose business is not designed for others, as that of all other books is.
                                                – Michel de Montaigne

What is the central question? It is the artist’s quest for form. There is, of course, the available and inherited collection of poetic structures, e.g., the sonnets, cinquains, limericks, etc., all sites of the poetic act. But form, we might also say, resides in the poet’s voice, that delicately private bundle of vowels and quirks and typewriter rhythms from which the poem arises. The exquisite singularity of every poem...ah, that singularity.

feeling my way down
the left and only margin
counting out the beats
edging my contemplations
in, forcing them to make room

it is a heavy
burden, the sentry’s duty
to see everything
but still walk his post
– the only power for now

first, there is the dream
come out of nowhere, but now
so familiar
mortaring words up like bricks
in a wall, along the lines


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