Original poem reprinted online here: "Tense" by Cullen Bailey Burns
More information about the Poet: Cullen Bailey Burns
Written in couplets where the focus of the poem is on the construction on the first and last stanza, but the rest of the poem is trying to hint at a relationship that either neither becomes fully formed or is malformed. I know, one is set in the creation and one is set in the aftermath, but the medium doesn't pop to me (the middle of the poem) as the beginning and end does.
"Am smitten, I said, and the grass lay still, / and him on it, and I barely lied." Here is a variety of puns and subject/object play here. When the speaker admits "Am smitten" the object should follow, right? And when the object is "the grass lay still" there's something odd going on construction wise; furthermore, the enjambment of "him" to the next line brings doubt to what the speaker is smitten with (currently) the lack of movement that the speaker shares ("I lied") or the him.
Also, the usage of "lied" at the end could refer to what the speaker is saying. There's some subterfuge going on here:
I couldn't stand his shoulders, how
they rounded, how the past tense
would have ached in them. The true word
never left its place beneath my tongue
So for a couplet focused poem, I chose to single out these four lines since this is a change of pace which also works -- here the speaker is nitpicking aspects of "him" and turning "him" more into a craft talk. The talk about shoulders interest me because I keep wondering how shoulder look like and I don't think they can be anything but round, but the definition of round, in this case, is supplemented with "how the past tense / would have ached in them" -- a call to technique. Here it would've been simple as "the past would've ached in them" but the specific call out to technique brings a more "ars poetica" tone to the piece especially with the play of the truth as "The true word / never left its place beneath my tongue." The truth not being said but hidden where things are said. The connection and what the connection here is more of a mystery.
Which is never really followed through, "as the sun cast down gold, September, / and the crickets sang," this could be an extension of the "truth" or "lie" but this feels more like a distraction (as in focusing on the setting like the speaker does), "telling us how the cold would come /from the warm tangle of our arms," and the tactile premonition from the crickets foreshadows the relationship, but again, I felt like the first couplet based on technique.
"and legs entwined in what? / We couldn't stop imagining." So the parallel image of the crickets further punctuate the separation also with the terse rhetorical question of "what." However what is interesting with this stanza is that the usage of "we" comes into play as though the "him" at this point, thinks the same way as the speaker -- but note the continuous images of body parts: shoulders, arms, and legs -- the description of a brief coupling which ends with, "I lay beside him, my hands cold, / wishing largesse from fall," Of course the diction that doesn't quite fit in, "largesse" stands out to hide the cold form a bit -- generosity in bestowing money or gifts -- and with the description in the background this seems more like a tryst for a financial gain (or at least the description makes it seem like that).
"From the future, until our silence / opened the day wide," the opening of the day wide signals a sense of escape of both away from each other not with each other, "(as lightning / does the sky sometimes)" the parenthitcal seems to be more of the speaker's thoughts on the issue to press further the separation; meanwhile, "and he said / am? was? what does it matter with this thirst?"
A couple of interesting things with the last stanza -- the juxtaposition between what's thought and what's said is pretty much equivalent to each other except for the he says the separation as the speaker experiences it. Furthermore, the parenthetical, although separates, encloses the thoughts of the speaker but he actions are open like the day. Lastly, the last rhetorical question "what does it matter with this thirst?" doesn't necessarily imply his thirst rather, subtly, their thirst. There's an assumption on the "him" on motive. Maybe he's right, Maybe he was right.