Apr 5, 2014

Jamaal May, "Hum for the Bolt": Lightning Reconsidered

Hum for the Bolt by Jamaal May : Poetry Magazine

Blurred Edges

“Hum for the Bolt” is the title poem of a first book by the
up and coming Detroit poet, Jamaal May. We can see “Hum for the Bolt” as a spring poem, but more importantly, it’s simply an excellent work that presents the speaker’s wish to be lightning, “the Bolt.” (It reminds me of Emily
Dickinson’s concept of the poem as a force that blows the top of her head off.  I also hear Coleridge concluding his portrait of the mysterious poet as prophet or deity in “Kubla Khan”:

            His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
            Weave a circle round him thrice,
            And close your eyes with holy dread
            For he on honey dew hath fed,
            And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Father and Son?
Coleridge’s poet is at least a shaman and perhaps a deity, yet Jamaal May’s image of the poet strikes me as new and credible, powerful and scary yet appealing.

I suppose the speaker could be just some guy, maybe a lover who wants to be flashy, like lightning, in order to be noticed; or he could be a stalker trying to be sneaky and unnoticed except for that instant of victory flash.
Ghost Plane, Avatar
But how many men want to be lightning? How many would choose lightning over silk that lies romantically against an arm or an arrow that whistles
on its way to the kill? He might

            .  .  . love to be
the silk-shimmer

the curve of anyone’s arm,
brutal and impeccable as it’d be to soar
a crossbow with a whistle and have a man

off upon my arrival, it is nothing

But instead of lover or warrior, the speaker wants to be an illumination, scary and near. He
doesn’t just bring the light; he is the light “in this moment, in this doorway.” The immediacy, the Now is important. The poem messes with time and space: the flash is simultaneously “this far. . . . this close.”

Lover or stalker—what an excellent way to picture a poem, which was the communication, the light, we welcomed into living rooms and bedrooms before television came along. Maybe it is still the presence, power and magic that “eat the dark.”

Sneaky Enlightenment
Although the images of medieval warfare (“spaulder and
helm,” and maybe “have a man//switch off”) strike me as forced, I can live with them in exchange for the poem’s wonderful yet unexpected comparison of silk and water, or the rain that makes “a noisy erasure/of this town.” What does rain do if not erase towns—the edges and outlines of buildings and people. Yet I never
consciously thought of rainy cityscapes in that way. Again, the lightning replaces time and space with magic: “the flash that arrives//and leaves at nearly the same moment.”

May’s choice of “spaulder and helm” makes me realize once again that we don’t have to praise every inch of a poem or a person or the person’s oeuvre or a symphony or a country to say we like it. The more reasonable point is that we like plenty of what’s there. Maybe that’s what we should hope we can say about this day or this life. The bad or merely bland, boring moments might outweigh the good in simple-minded numbers, but there’s some good that keeps sneaking in for whose who can receive it, and some of it flashes like lightning, the fierce beauty and power of which cannot be measured or understood.


Pasadena Adjacent said...

Strikes me as something leaning towards the sinister. I was reminded of a Koranic quote (last line)

"Assuredly, it is We Who have created human, and We know what suggestions his soul makes to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein"

Banjo52 said...

PA, I agree--and if not sinister, at least menacing, spooky, creepy. That line from the Koran, especially in connection to the poem, is also creepy. Holy cow. Thanks. Maybe in emphasizing the light, the flash, I underplayed the sinister?

Stickup Artist said...

Yes, it gave me a shudder. I really liked it though. Interesting how those combinations of words work to produce such a visceral effect. I guess when it comes down to it, we are what we are.

Banjo52 said...

Stickup, Yes, a shudder. Yet I did not dislike the image or the whole poem. Interesting?

Also maybe we could play a parlor game with the elements and "we are what we are." If he's lightning, after being tempted by silk, water, and arrows, I'll be mud. Anyone else? Come on now . . . . Sorry, that's very immature, I'm sure.

Julie Brown said...

There are many times that days are filled with boring moments. That is why we seek out flowers, wildlife, or beautiful landscapes. Literature and poetry can take us to another place as well.

Lovers' Lane