Underpass

Underpass

Endemic dark indemnifies the night.
Much madness undermines the roundabout:
directions redirect the recondite

from hypogean lower-level, out
in ways that liberate but lose the art.
Give way: there is no artery without

both systole and diastolic part.
Metromania’s religion: here you set
your epic’s opening, journeyman’s false start.

Now put the lines down, see just what you get:
chthonic forms the dead will come to write,
frustrated shadows of the never-yet.

Note: A metaphysical conceit in which the city underpass becomes, simultaneously, the Underworld, the unconscious, and an underground Metro system (‘metromania’ is a pun, as is ‘lines’, summoning both verse and train lines). ‘Endemic dark’ (because it returns every night) is actually one of the few good things about the night, the poem says, because it allows things to settle and for a myriad different thoughts (‘madness’) to focus and clarify. Such madness undermines the idea of trying to talk indirectly and inconclusively about things (‘the roundabout’) because, sometimes, you simply need to be decisive and pin things down a bit more firmly than that (there’s obviously a faint suggestion of drilling down beneath or ‘undermining’ a traffic roundabout, such as happens when new subways or metro systems are developed). In order for the poem to be written and come to the surface, you need to provide it with an outlet, but you lose some of the subtlety of the thing in putting it into words, because of all the other ‘roads not taken’, I suppose. Arteries work at pumping blood around the body by using both systole and diastole: contraction and relaxation. So art has to be both disciplined and expansive. The apostrophe in ‘Metromania’s religion’ is designed to hover between contraction and possession. The ‘epic’s opening’ takes us to Pound’s Cantos, which opens in the Underworld (a different kind of ‘hypogean’ space), which was a ‘false start’ because that wasn’t how the Cantos originally opened and because the Odyssey, from which Pound was taking his cue, doesn’t begin in Hades, because Homer tells the story in a non-linear fashion. Tiresias and other ‘chthonic forms’ help Odysseus just as the shade of Homer helps Pound to find his own way with his poem; ‘forms’ is obviously another (probably rather heavy-handed) play on verse forms.

This poem © Oliver Tearle 2021