Monday, July 29, 2013

The Bagel

By David Ignatow

I stopped to pick up the bagel
rolling away in the wind,
annoyed with myself
for having dropped it
as it were a portent.
Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.

This  is a poem that is, at first, perfectly reasonable and realistic— and then slides into the surreal. There is both pleasure and humor in this poem's tone and it has a kind of quiet, otherworldly tranquility.

This  charming poem strikes  just the right balance of absurdity and seriousness. And quite apart from its metaphorical meaning, it evokes a very literal and physical image - the childhood memory of running downhill as fast as I could, until I was not so much running as bounding, very out of control and very exhilarated. And, yes, strangely happy with myself.

There is also more stillness than action, as if one were describing a dream landscape rather than a human event. The  emotions seem to be contained within the images themselves and there is a sense that there is something of the flattened affect and dissociative feeling of dreams—as though the emotions seething below the surface were cloaked in a blanket of drugged calm.

It is not unlikely that "The Bagel" was an imaginative extension of an actual experience. Perhaps the author had dropped a bagel or some other small item on a windy street as he was returning home with groceries,
and found himself chasing after it, at first annoyed, but suddenly, finding himself running in the wind, feeling a surge of childlike exuberance—as if he, like the object of his chase, were tumbling helter-skelter
through the street. 

Whether that was the germinating experience or not, the poem seems a celebration of just that sort of moment.