More information about the Poet: Anne Cecelia Holmes
There are two "if" gambits in this poem. When I was rereading this poem, I felt the crux of the poem is how to interpret the two "if" lines, but first the set-up:
I almost say formula
but instead say data
and I am not interested
in the kind of brilliance
I quoted the whole section because these lines feel like character description lines which indicate thought. For example, it's not the differentiation between "formula" and "date" (although one is a prerequisite for the other) but the self-awareness of "saying" one thing rather than the other. Note, the speaker is not "wrong" in any case, but knows and says different things. Furthermore, the connection through the conjunction of "and" gives connects the ideas, this awareness of mix-ups, to a more expansive idea -- the apathy of brilliance -- simple clarification.
In reference to a "practice test" -- the ability to differentiate (like a multiple choice test) is the difference between good scores and bad scores, but added to this mix is self-awareness.
"If I don't / have a kingdom I don't / need a pendulum." Here's the first if statement. This seems more like a cause and effect line. If the speaker had a kingdom, then a pendulum, a sort of punishment, wouldn't be necessary. This is somewhat important, but look at the use of the negative to prove a point which leads to nowhere -- somewhat like the practice test tip of "narrowing down what isn't there." This isn't there and so is this brilliance.
[...] If I
perform what I know
as true unloveliness
I am a new creature
and I am brave enough
to be be wounded
Note the thread of a mythos (kingdom) informing the next line. And also note that the first half of the line is based on the negative "true unloveliness" to develop something, a "new creature" and the lines "I am brave enough / to be wounded." Seem to be more physical lines in a mental poem. But, the idea of "wound" here can apply to both which is a drastic difference from the apathy portrayed in the beginning of the poem.
Another key is in the next line " I break / approximately and unfurl /from an understanding." Note the usage of approximate as though the person cannot be fully analyzed -- the physical not matching up with mental.
"my own bell curve / as it flattens /against the world." The image is interesting and adds a surrealness to the speaker and applies to both the physically and mentally. The bell curve image ties in with the idea of a practice test, a more mental game; however, this, applied physically could represent the "average" of many or the "distinction" at the edges. I'm not too sure.