The Kiss of a Shark and Feet of a Sparrow – The Poems of Tim Seibles

American Poet Tim Seibles

American Poet Tim Seibles


Traffic: solitude,
the city — walking around.

So many of us lost in it.
Is love the secret

nobody tells? In a small park
daylight pulled its knife

and a tree moved
toward me: what are you

doing here?
I remembered then: I lit

my eyes which had
gone out

Tim Seibles from Fast Animal, Etruscan Press, 2012

Watch Tim Seibles walk on stage and you better have a fire extinguisher handy or else you might burn up! This man has lit his eyes! Watch out. There is wildfire in his words! This is a man who embodies his passion for poetry. The words fill him and he fills the words. His rendition of Theodore’s Roethke’s poem In a Dark Time at this year’s Palm Beach Poetry festival made me hear it as if for a first of first times. Especially the last stanza:

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, Doubleday, 1963

What a definition of the soul: my soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,/ Keeps buzzing at the sill. The way Seibles delivered that line I felt the madness of my own soul! The madness of it buzzing at the sill of my body, trying to break free. And feeling that feeling Roethke’s ecstatic release, at the poem’s end, hit me like an epiphany:

…………..…I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

This poem and Seibles’ poems were an epiphany last January in Delray Beach, Florida.(For a link to Seibles reading his poem Lobster for Sale at the festival click here.) I bought three of his books and devoured them. What I hadn’t expected was to be hit by his impassioned plea for an impassioned poetry in the introduction to his 2004 volume Buffalo Head Solos. What a poetic call to arms. Here is a taste:

What the hell happened to the notion of poet as town crier, rabble rouser, court jester, priestess, visionary madman?….Writing poems in SUV-America can feel like fiddling amidst catastrophe, but if one must fiddle shouldn’t one play that thing until it smokes? And, in stirring the words with our tongues, our paws, our long nights, and the smoldering tangle of our brains, maybe we could move our general kin to listen.

Seibles, in  despair, wrote this in the aftermath of the Iraq war but he could have as easily  written it yesterday. There is a new/old war Iraq, Syria remains brutalized by violence, the Ebola virus remains unchecked in Africa and has crossed over to other continents and terrorism visited my country last week in attacks on our soldiers (claiming two lives) and on our Parliament Building. Rough days. The days he could be describing at the end of his introduction:

 These are rough days. Desperate times. Times when our language is publicly tortured and forced to mean so much less than it means. There must be a way to stop this dying, a way to make a literature that does more: a poetry with the kiss of a shark and the feet of a sparrow, a poetry at intervals beautiful then ruthless, frank but full of quickening delusions.

Tim Seibles, from Buffalo Head Solos, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2004

I say write it, say it: poetry with the kiss of a shark and the feet of a sparrow! And I say, also, that Seibles writes what he declares. He lets his music and images do the work for him! And that is so evident in a series of persona poems in his latest book Fast Animal which was nominated for 2012 National Book Award.

These persona poems are written in the voice of Blade, the Marvel Comics character portrayed by Wesley Snipes in the Blade movies. Blade, the vampire killer – half-man, half-vampire, caught between the dark and light! Sound familiar?! Watch for the shark bite in this poem – Blade, Unplugged:

It’s true: I almost never
smile, but that doesn’t mean

I’m not in love: my heart
is that black violin
played slowly. You know that

moment late in the solo
when the voice
is so pure you feel
the blood in it: the wound

between rage
and complete surrender. That’s
where I’m smiling. You just
can’t see it – the sound

bleeding perfectly
inside me. The first time
I killed a vampire I was

sad: I mean
we were almost family.

But that’s
so many lives ago. I believe

in the cry that cuts
into the melody, the strings
calling back the forgotten world.

When I think of that
one note that breaks
what’s left of what’s
human in me, man

I love everything.

Tim Seibles from Fast Animal

This poem has clamped on to my chest and won’t let me go. The music, the surprises, dark humour, the exquisite short lines, the trapped anguish of someone caught between darkness and light. The anguish of being human. His heart: a black violin played slowly. What a metaphor. And it gets richer. A heart as a black violin with a voice so pure: you feel/ the blood in it: the wound// between rage/ and complete surrender. If that doesn’t capture some of my sense of being human I don’t know what does.

His ear for tone is acute. He breaks the musical intensity (literally and figuratively) of the first four stanzas with these surprisingly matter of fact lines: The first time /I killed a vampire    I was// sad: I mean/ we were almost/ family.

The structure and cadence, let alone the meaning, of the last part of the poem, bring me back to it again and again. Say the last five lines out loud. Pay attention to the line breaks, how chopped up, how broken the lines feel in an echo of their meaning. These lines are a beautiful shark’s bite into what I know is a true-self part of me. I know because it hurts and heals at the same time. Lines like these are why I call poetry a GPS for the soul, the heart!  These lines express why I stay in this dark, dark world. Especially in the darkness of current world events. In spite of it all, this poem, Seibles, in the voice of Blade, says:

I love  everything

And I am reminded, and am compelled to chose to agree. This line on its own? It could be from a greeting card. But not with the lines preceding it: What resonance: When I think of the madness/ that has made me   and the midnight/I walk inside all day long. And what a deft double play on the next poetic line: when I think of that which refers to both the madness and midnight and to the one pure note of the violin. Only then, holding the beauty and the madness of his world, our world, can he say:

I love    everything.

That line is a lifeboat for me today: on a day a few days after a successful heart procedure, during  a week when my own poems are being bitten and spit out (or so it seems by publications), and during a time when my father in law, aged ninety one, is failing. And yet this lifeboat floats even more buoyantly because of a line in the Seibles’ Blade poem that precedes Blade, Unplugged – the poem Blade, Historical:

……………some days

I think, with the singing
of my blade, I can fix
everything — even the sadness

that says nothing that matters
will change. Some days
I think I should never have been.

These lines chilled me when I read them. Who of us can say we have not thought I think I should never have been? It was with those lines haunting me that I read Blade, Unplugged and I read the other lines: I love   everything. Here is true essence of poetry. Its deranged embrace of the no and the yes! Legs of the sparrow. A shark’s bite.

………….Some days
I think I should never have been.

Not the last word. These words:

I love    everything





  1. Barbara Black
    Posted November 2, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    The “deranged embrace of the no and the yes.” Your words are timely, Richard. I have been succeeding in the former but not the latter, to be abstruse. Thank you for demonstrating with poetry how I might “light my eyes” in the darkness.

  2. Richard
    Posted November 11, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Dear Barbara Your poems are eyes that light up the darkness! So appreciate your comments. Hope the yeses are growing in your life.

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