The play of grammar has always lured me. I’ve wondered: why do English sentences take the shape they do? So when I reached line 4 of Lance Larsen’s “Afternoon Swim”—with its bold announcement that he was switching from second person to first—I was hooked. Play with grammar is this poem’s medium. I laughed out loud at the course of Larsen’s sentence about another sentence: “a sentence in a Victorian novel fallen against the belly // of a pregnant somebody dozing on shore, turning now / to devour a delicious direct object.” Yet soon—surprise!—the direct object being devoured is the loaves that Christ multiplied, and the poem’s play turns theological as well as grammatical. And metaphysical, too, by the poem’s end, as it moves into pondering why words have the meanings they do—and how our very self is constructed.
The bridge marshals together a flotilla of ducks whose beaded
heads beg you to count them. The stippled field burned
across one corner reminds you of your sins. Or me of mine.
Listen, I have used second person to camouflage my fear
of scrubbed light, of sky reaching down to finger me
like a riled border agent checking tourists for forged papers.
Just now, I’m doing backstroke, but if I let myself rise
from the grave of first person, I might also be a snapping turtle
below deciding which toe of this sorry swimmer to bite.
Or a sentence in a Victorian novel fallen against the belly
to devour a delicious direct object. Why is it, whatever I look
at turns hungry? When Christ multiplied the loaves,
he committed as many catastrophes of meaning as there were
open mouths. What the multitude gave back filled
twelve baskets. What they refused filled seven horizons.
I’m no different, gliding through what is vertiginous and wet
and holy and calling it water. Occupying a floating city
wrapped in skin but calling it body. Say me in dashes, lift
me till I rise upwards out of self the way rain drizzles down.
Lance Larsen’s second poetry collection, In All Their Animal Brilliance (Tampa), won theTampa Review prize for poetry. His poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Times Literary Supplement, New York Review of Books, Grand Street, Pushcart 2005, and elsewhere. He teaches literature and creative writing at Brigham Young University.
Above image by eiji ienaga, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.