Mexican Desert - Mina Loy
The belching ghost-wail of the locomotive
trailing her rattling wooden tail
into the jazz-band sunset. . . .
The mountains in a row
set pinnacles of ferocious isolation
under the alien hot heaven
Vegetable cripples of drought
thrust up the parching appeal
cracking open the earth
and hunch-back palm trees
belabour the cinders of twilight. . . .
I can't get enough of "Mexican Desert". It's got everything that I love in a poem. The imagery is surreal and haunting, almost nightmarish, yet somehow lifelike. The wordplay is percussive and sensual, but not overly affected, and the emotion is immediately accessible -- it's impact is visceral. My favorite part of all, the poem begs to be read in a low-down, Tom-Waitsian growl (check out "9th and Hennepin" from Waits' album Rain Dogs. It's similarity to "Mexican Desert" is chilling).
The gift of this poem for me is the opportunity for self-expression through the reading process itself: who and where are we in the scene that Loy has created? Are we passengers on this belching train? Sophisticated, upper-class British poets like Loy, traveling safely and comfortably in an overnight car? Are we Tarahumara tribesmen, scoping out the train from one of the "ferocious pinnacles of isolation"? Or, are we bloodthirsty train-robbers, hiding behind the "hunch-backed palm trees", waiting for the perfect moment to hijack the conductor. Every stanza offers a different identity, or you can inhabit all three at the same time!
Although I chose to write about this poem, I don't necessarily consider myself a fan of Loy's poetry. The vast majority of her work is too intellectual, with sounds and images that are overly affected. For me, reading Loy is like eating chocolate mousse: its definitely rich, but you'll feel terrible if you eat too much. So, small doses of this modern poet are all I need.
- Dan Asselin