The Man Who Wishes To Feed On Mahogany

The Man Who Wishes To Feed On Mahogany

by Annie Dillard

Chesterton tells us that if someone wished to feed exclusively on mahogany, poetry would not be able to express this. Instead, if a man happens to love and not be loved in return, or if he mourns the absence or loss of someone, then poetry is able to express these feelings precisely because they are commonplace.
-Borges, Interview in Encounter, April 1969

Not the man who wishes to feed on mahogany
and who happens to love and not be loved in return;
not mourning in autumn the absence or loss of someone,
remembering how, in a yellow dress, she leaned
light-shouldered, lanky, over a platter of pears-
no; no tricks. Just the man and his wish, alone.

That there should be mahogany, real, in the world,
instead of no mahogany, rings in his mind
like a gong-that in humid Haitian forests are trees
hard trees, not holes in air, not nothing, no Haiti
no zone for trees nor time for wood to grow:
reality rounds his mind like rings in a tree.

Love is the factor, love is the type, and the poem.
Is love a trick, to make him commonplace?
He wishes, cool in his windy rooms. He thinks:
of all earth’s shapes, her coils, rays, and nets,
mahogany I love, this sunburnt red,
this close-grained, scented slab, my fellow creature.

He knows he can’t feed on the wood he loves, and he won’t.
But desire walks on lean legs down halls of his sleep,
desire to drink and sup at mahogany’s mass.
His wishes weight his belly. Love holds him here,
love nails him to the world, this windy wood,
as to a cross. Oh, this lanky, sunburnt cross!

Is he sympathetic? Do you care?
And you, sir: perhaps you wish to feed
on your bright-eyed daughter, on your baseball glove,
on your outboard motor’s pattern in the water.
Some love weights your walking in the world;
some love molds you heavier than air.

Look at the world, where vegetation spreads
and peoples air with weights of green desire.
Crosses grow as trees and grasses everywhere,
writing in wood and leaf and flower and spore,
marking the map, “Some man love here;
and one loved something here; and here; and here.

(From Tickets For A Prayer Wheel by Annie Dillard.)

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Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 4:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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