I was reading John Le Carré this past summer, the slender early volumes with such great momentum in which nearly everything crucial remains unsaid. There are no wasted words; you can really feel the thickness of silence in those books, the subtext.
I’ve always been fascinated by tales of Cold War espionage, the hollow nickel holding microfilm, the wallpaper-pattern laced with blueprints. I won’t belabor the metaphor, but there’s no doubt a parallel between poets and spies: effective ones live invisibly on the margins and quietly alter the world. The whole idea is to get the right information to the right people.
The poem began as interrogation and morphed rather quickly into a job interview, replete with awkwardness, jokes landing sideways and coded signaling. I thought the Horizon, as a shifting entity that is everywhere and nowhere, might make a good double-agent.
But the espionage sort of fell away. This Horizon seemed a bit too yearning and honest, somehow. He simply wanted to get close to someone, to connect. It seems a dubious prospect, given that he’s defined by the outer limit of our vision. But one can hope.
I see you found the coffee. [Flashes brief smile.] So, tell me, what particular qualifications might you bring to this position?
Dimensionality, multiplicity, vision. [These attributes are ticked off one finger at a time, in what appears to be a studied gesture.] You know, generally speaking, when people first think of me, they picture a flat line between field and sky. Classic landscape painting. [Raises fingers to signify air quotes.] “Horizon.” But I’m more than that.
In what sense?
When you look up and see buildings blocking out clouds, that’s me. When you peer through a tangle of branches toward a blood-red sunset, I’m not obscured. That crosshatched weave of light and branches is actually me. Wherever the sky meets the foreground of perception, that’s horizon.
I see. So, you’re basically always there, on the periphery.
Exactly. Unless, of course, you’re handcuffed in a windowless room. Then I’m afraid I’m not much help. [Chuckles and takes a sip of coffee.]
Why would I be handcuffed?
In your hypothetical situation. It seems the room being windowless would be quite sufficient, yes? Why must I be handcuffed as well?
It was merely a figure of speech.
Well, I find it troubling.
It was an attempt at humor. Failed, obviously. I apologize. Perhaps we can move on?
Perhaps. Although it would be hard to move on if you were handcuffed. [Flashes brief smile.] I’m joking, of course.
In your “Statement of Personal Ethos” you speak of inhabiting paradox. [Shuffles through notes.] This line in particular struck me: “As a point of fixity and endless expanse, I’m invoked as metaphor for both eternal limit and limitless eternity.” I thought that was quite well-said.
What does it mean exactly?
Well, as you can imagine, it made for quite the identity crisis growing up.
Is that what drew you to the idea of this sort of work?
In part, yes. I think straddling boundaries sensitized me to certain questions of identity. That strange ability to be both dominant and invisible, for instance. Everyone thinks they know what the horizon is before they’ve even met me. They live, more or less, in a terrarium of their own expectations. [Pauses.] To be frank, there’s also the question of the security of my current position. With India and China committing so whole-heartedly to coal, there’s suddenly two billion pairs of eyes that won’t be requiring my services for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to be caught flat-footed.
Of course. [Nods sympathetically.] Has it ever occurred to you that you might inspire a whiff of paranoia, especially in this line of work?
Paranoia? I’m afraid I don’t understand.
Given that you are – [Shuffles through notes.] – “basically always there, on the periphery.”
Those were your words, not mine.
I simply mean to say… [There is a long pause here.] …that those words probably reflect your state of mind more than they reflect my own.
[Nods and scribbles quick note on dossier.] Talk to me about fog and smog, about those days when the sky fades into the ocean.
It happens. I ponder death, do my laundry. It’s a day off, essentially.
What really makes you tick? What does the horizon do on a lazy Sunday afternoon?
I love generating a strand of geese out from behind a hillside. The effect is particularly pleasing when the V is somewhat bedraggled and tries to reform itself in flight, a shifting necklace in a high white sky. It’s a form of writing, I suppose.
Sending up a murmuration of starlings is also good. You know those huge swirling flocks they form? It’s called a murmuration. [Smiles, in disbelief.] The way those dark specks leap and swerve in unison. It’s like shaking toast crumbs from a bedsheet.
Is there anything you enjoy beyond birds? That is to say, I must confess I’m curious about sunsets.
In what sense?
Well, what’s it like? Swallowing the sun every night. Seems rather profound!
[Shrugs.] It’s about as sexy as swallowing an aspirin. And, of course, I don’t actually digest it. We just meet, briefly and go our separate ways. We never actually touch. It’s nightly air-kiss that occurs at a slightly different moment for every set of eyes on the planet. Think about that level of refraction for a moment.
Yeah. It’s a little exhausting. Although to be honest, the moment is ignored far more often than it’s not. It’s mostly appreciated – if I can even use that word –by boozy vacationers on the coast. And don’t even get me started on motivational posters. The potential royalties I’ve lost—
I can only imagine. [Collects papers together and closes dossier with a quick snap.] Well, I’ve certainly enjoyed our little chat, but our time has come to an end. My assistant can validate your parking stub, if necessary. We do appreciate your time today.
Likewise. I look forward to hearing from you. I think I have a lot to offer—
We’ll be in touch. In the meantime, enjoy the rain.
Michael Bazzett‘s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, 32 Poems, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Best New Poets. He is the author of the chapbooks The Imaginary City (OW! Arts, 2012) and The Unspoken Jokebook (OW! Arts, 2014). His first full-length collection, You Must Remember This, winner of the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, was published in 2014 by Milkweed Editions. His verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, The Popol Vuh, is forthcoming from Milkweed in 2016.
Listen to Justin Boening interview Michael Bazzett for The Subvocal Zoo podcast.