from THE B-SIDES
This poem begins with a line found under my sister's hat as it laid on a bench in the European wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We weren't even looking at the Balthus painting "The Mountain" from which the poem derives its innovative name. The poem was first called "Seven Ways of Dying a Little Girl's Hair," but I couldn't decide on a color. The knife-sharpening of the pencil halfway through the poem actually happened. Every morning our father would take a kitchen knife and sharpen our pencils. He made it look so easy that one morning I decided I would try. That is how I lost a good chunk of flesh from the knuckle of my left index finger. It didn't hurt until I saw the blood. That's when I fainted. When I came to, my sister was fanning me with one of our grandfather's dirty handkerchiefs. Our grandfather lived with us until I was 12. He lived in the den because he had no legs with which to climb the stairs; they had been shot off in so-called Big One. The walls of the den were lined with books, so that every time I went in to see him I felt as if he were the smartest man on earth. The books, my mother's and father's, were all nonfiction.
New Yorkers assume that the pastoral scene depicted here takes place in Central Park. Chicagoans assume the location is Grant Park. Parisians believe it to be Jardin du Luxembourg. Of course this is only pointed out because one should appreciate the power of people's intuition. Nevertheless, the poem takes place in Gori, Georgia, in 1889. The boy in the poem, who has stolen his father's razor, is J.V. Stalin. And the "unknown end" is the imminent deaths of eight million intuitions by his verbal signature. The light at the end of the poem is symbolic of the kind of life one wishes to lead but can't because one has been born a human being, a Cossack, a daughter. The absence, therefore, that surrounds the poem makes the light work hard.