“…what looked like / part of the performance / was often just a lightning bug, or a planet / a chip of mica in the road. We clapped anyway.”
Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (Boa Editions, Ltd. 2011), a tremendous collection of collaborative poetry by G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher, is electrified by lines such as these found in “A Short History of Friendship,” which have the spirit, specificity, natural elements, and depth of haiku. The lines could stand on their own without the reader having to know a single detail about “the performance,” which could be any number of life’s glittering spectacles.
The power of these lines is intensified by the dismissive tone of “just” and “anyway.” While witnessing an unnamed, man made, and surreal spectacle of fire and lasers, the speaker and other observers see additional glimmers of light which they believe, momentarily, to be part of the performance; but they are “often just a lightning bug, or a planet / a chip of mica in the road. [They] clapped anyway.” The downplay of these phenomena—a luminescent insect, a celestial body, a shard of geologic history in a modern roadway—works to intensify their extraordinary nature and their unlikeliness. Each glimmering object represents millions, if not billions of years of formation, transformation, or evolution. Like fire they are ancient, archetypal, and continue to inspire awe (and applause!), even in an age of lasers.
More Waldrep and Gallaher: