“That Moment, Which You Could Love, What of It” is a poem about people’s awareness of the passage of time. Bruce Weigl, in The Giver of Morning: On the Poetry of Dave Smith (1982), emphasizes Smith’s “recognition of the inevitability of time [moving] forward.” Such an awareness may well be the mental function which most distinguishes us from all other species. The isolation of the enigmatic “you” in a room recalling meaningful and highly personal events is thus emblematic of all humanity, or people’s isolating capacity to anticipate, with objective detachment, their own deaths.
Smith addresses this theme throughout the poem, beginning with the dissolution of day into a peculiarly human incarnation of dusk. Memory, by separating now from then, is a reminder of time’s passage. With a highly charged memory at its heart, “That Moment” makes the same separation, but in Smith’s hands, memory is a salve as well as a source of distress. By asking “Who/ would not risk everything/ for this. . . .?” Smith is celebrating both the reader’s capacity to recall and his own ability to render his remembered experience into artistically satisfying lyric poetry. In short, Smith’s life work of writing is for him a sacramental transformation.
Other poets have made the same point, but what distinguishes this poem from many contemporary poems on the same theme is the poem’s allusion to a story in what is traditionally...
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