I commute to work on the NYC subway system every day, a routine no longer subject to the provisions enumerated in the UN Convention Against Torture owing to a jurisdiction dispute. One of the ways the Transit Authority mollifies those of us trapped into favoring it with our custom is to post “poetry” over our heads, along with advertisements for dermatologists only recently released from prison.
Co-sponsored by Barnes & Noble and a homeless man named Earl, the “poems” are intended to have a calming effect on an otherwise unruly cast of New Yorkers one delay away from storming the conductor’s box like mutinous French guards on Bastille Day.
Last evening, as I was wending my way under the East River, I read the following adventure in versifying:
If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.
—Vera Pavlova (b. 1963)
Now I know that to parse a poem as if it were a syllogism is to commit a category error, but the structure of this beauty invites some kind of logical unpacking. Let me give it a try:
If I desire never to ride the subway again,
I will regret having to ride the subway.
If I regret having to ride the subway,
I will recall the regret of having to ride the subway.
If I recall that regret of having to ride the subway,
I no longer have to regret riding the subway.
If I no longer have to regret riding the subway,
There was no reason to desire not to ride the subway in the first place.
Amazing, huh? In but a few fleeting lines, all contradictions are reconciled, all tensions are relaxed, all questions answered, all complaints rendered moot.
Now if only I could figure out what the hell it means . . .