Billboard Koan, Shitty Namaste
The Ben Franklin Bridge connects Philadelphia and Camden NJ, where both wine and gas are cheaper. The first thing you see from the bridge’s eastbound downside (as they say in traffic reports—my current unstartable poem is called “Eastbound Downside”) is the big red-and-blackgray billboard advertising Droid, Verizon’s new iPhone-type mobile. The Droid ad’s tagline: “A bare-knuckled bucket of Does.”
At first, I didn’t read the word “does” as in Droid does this, does that. The first thing the billboard called to mind was a big pail stuffed with female deer, their pointy hoofs poking into one another, hides crawling with ticks, stinking of “buckwheat and water” (as Peter Campion puts it in his poem “In Early March” from The Lions). With a movie thug standing over the pail, punching a bare-knuckled fist down among them every few minutes.
Did the ad copywriters mean that image to come to mind? Probably they did: The best minds of our generation who don’t work in investment bank book-cooking, do work in advertising pointless products. It’s not going to make me shell out for a Droid, but it does make me have a certain respect for the creepy invention of these poet manqués (and good riddance) of commerce. It’s pleasant to meet incongruous surrealist imagery in the wasted landscape of Camden NJ, and in the sterile world of electronics.
I take a yoga class at the university where I’m teaching this year. The teacher is into improving our yoga skills, pushing us always further, a little further again. I have no interest in improvement, only in staying alert through the two poetry classes I teach afterwards. (But yes, if you want to know, I can do the crow pose. See illustration above. Could Ted Hughes say the same?) The other class my yoga teacher teaches is Fitness Boot Camp, which should say a lot about her. She finally left me and my yoga alone when I faked a collapse as she stood over me, kindly, encouragingly, proddingly. I think it scared her off. Or else she abandoned me in scorn and disgust.
At the end of class we sit on our knees; we’re supposed to om, but I mostly don’t. My husband, who does an hour of yoga daily, suggests that, like him, I moo instead. “It exhales all your bovinity,” he says. After om, my yoga teacher says “Namaste,” which means something like “I bow to your true self.” We’re supposed to say “Namaste” back. All around me: 20-year old university students, strong, beautiful, beefy and buff Irish-American suburbanites majoring in Arabic and Chinese (the students where I teach are very good citizens, and want to make a contribution). While they bow and mutually honor, I celebrate my false self, which is even shittier than my true self, and writes all my poetry.
I realize I have a little hostility problem.
But I love my yoga teacher. Because after the prodding ends and before the namaste-ing, we lie on our backs for Savasana, the relaxation pose. While we lie there she turns up the music that’s been droning low all during class, and poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” wells up!
Is she being ironic? Or does she listen to music, not words? We hear, “She tied you to a kitchen chair, She broke your throne, and she cut your hair.” We hear, “Love is not a victory march, It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah” Then she tings a tiny bell and says very sweetly and calmly, “Thank yourself for making it to your mat today.”
My yoga lady has some negative capability in her after all.
True fact: you can get a “Hallelujah” ringtone for your cell, Droid, iPhone or otherwise.
Daisy Fried is the author of Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice (2013), My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (2006) and She Didn’t Mean to Do It (2000), all from University of Pittsburgh Press. She was awarded the Editors' Prize for Feature Article from Poetry magazine in 2009.