That Moment, Which You Could Love, What of It

by Dave Smith
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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

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“That Moment, Which You Could Love, What of It” is a short free-verse poem, its forty-one lines divided into six roughly equal stanzas. The unusual title indicates both an acknowledgment of the fleeting nature of experience and an irreverent tone. The absence of a question mark following the title heightens the impression of irreverence, but the poem’s serious intent eventually supersedes any initial hints of flippancy or cynicism.

The poem is written in the second person. Although in general usage the second person is employed for direct address, in modern poetry it is often used, paradoxically, as a form of the first person. Dave Smith has chosen to refer to himself as “you” as a way of transcending himself and of including the reader intimately in his vision and experience, an intimacy that would be far less intense had he chosen “I.”

The poem begins with the poet reporting primarily on the time of day—dusk—and the weather—unchanged, below freezing. There is more, however, in the first stanza; when dusk appears with “a newspaper under its arm, gray/ overcoat flapping,” readers rightly begin to feel that they are in for an extraordinary experience.

In the second stanza, the poet takes us from a memory of snow and ice “hunched in the aborted grass” through a swift-moving chain of associations to an immediate perception, in the stanza’s last line, of the objective reality of ice on his window. Just as a window separates weather and other exterior elements from indoor space, the iced-window image separates the poet’s descriptions and impressions of the outdoors from those of his room—“your room.”

In the third stanza, the voice of a singer, “the diva,” enters the room via the radio and commingles with hanging plants and aquarium water. In the fourth stanza, after the diva is overcome by static, and as Smith describes some objects in the room, the reader is drawn closer to the emotional heart of the poem. On a table near empty salt and pepper shakers, there are “tracks/ in what you poured out/ circling on themselves.” Again, as with dusk and unchanging weather, the poet shows his poignant awareness of the passage of time. He had poured the condiments “playfully/ at first, then desperate for what/ was the beginning.”

In the fifth stanza, a climax is reached, both literally and in literary terms. Using highly charged diction—and with dusk’s “overcoat/ left in a corner” adding resonant allusion to earlier images—Smith recalls a sexual encounter. The memory of “her/ cry riding the one long note/ of your breath” recalls the diva’s song. When the poem alludes to itself in this way, it in effect transforms itself from a seemingly haphazard series of images into a logical progression. Continuing the memory, in a reference to the salt, the pepper and the radio, the poet states, “something trackless, nor of wires/ received, envelops you.” The poem ends with a sweeping question: “Who/ would not risk everything for this?” The open-ended “this” can refer both to the recollection on which the poem focuses and to the poet’s, and therefore the reader’s own, human capacity to recall valued moments, as if the process itself were as valuable as any single experience.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

Dave Smith’s poetry is one of solemn extremes. There is nothing jocular—no offhand urbanity or self-mockery—and “That Moment, Which You Could Love, What of It” does nothing to break the pattern. The poem’s diction, its ventures into metaphor and its imagery progressively intensify the poem’s meaning.

The poem opens explosively with a striking first line—“Today, bitch of a day, trembling”—introducing readers to a stark diction that continues throughout the poem. The opening is followed almost immediately by an equally striking personification of dusk, which “rounds corners,/ a newspaper under its arm, gray/ overcoat flapping.” This figure, exemplifying an extreme form of metaphor, shows Smith’s deftness at taking creative risks. In the second stanza, a simile—“snow . . ./ hunched in the aborted grass/ like terror”—is followed by an almost blinding series of metaphorical leaps: snow on a branch is seen as “one snaking/ tongue [which] flares in a small bush/ lost in winter.” Within two short lines of verse, snow becomes a snake, a tongue, and a flame. The effect is startling.

These metaphorical pyrotechnics go far toward establishing the poem’s imagery. In the third stanza, the visual images broaden to include the aural. Thus, the diva’s song transforms, in a peculiar metaphorical connection, into “coilings” and “tendrils” of potted plants hanging in the room. Conversely, the prevailing image of the fourth stanza, loose pepper and salt that “you poured out,” is devoid of metaphorical connection, in keeping with the stanza’s resigned mood. The associations return, however, with “the fierce blaze of light” that opens the fifth stanza, reminding one of the image of snow as a tongue of flame in a bush.

With this blaze of light, the poet’s memory of an ecstatic sexual experience bursts explosively into the poem, and Smith’s abrupt diction—“blaze,” “cry,” “breath,” “surge”—is equal to the task. His reliance on one-syllable words heightens the tension: “you/ know a surge in the earth,” the poem intones, and the reader knows a climax has been reached. The “she” of the memory is intentionally vague, the moment is brief, and the only remaining image afterward is the aural one of “the beautiful diva/ straining notes like moments/ so rare nothing dies.”

After such intensity, it is fitting that the poem end with a rhetorical question—a syntactical device otherwise absent in the poem. This sudden, final shift is tantamount to an admission that the language employed to convey the experience—like the experience itself, and its participants—is both exhausting and exhausted, a sign of Smith’s thoroughness in lyrically capturing his deeply felt emotion.