1058: The Dangers of Contemplation

1058: The Dangers of Contemplation

1058: The Dangers of Contemplation


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Lately, I’ve taken to opening the app “Plane Finder” when I spot aircraft in the sky, so that I can view its route. I like to imagine a cabin full of passengers either dozing, reading, listening to music or watching a movie. I imagine their lives — whether their trip is for business or pleasure, who might greet them when they land, what tourist sites they will visit for the first time.

My impulse to follow airplanes is not unrelated to the pleasure gained in tracking the mind of an author as they process and interpret experiences inside a poem. Every poem is a map, a transcription of a contemplative and roaming mind. I am curious about the images that arise out of the poet’s subconscious and the associative thoughts that follow. I particularly delight in the poet whose brain works at scale, a mind that soars from the granular level to expansive ideas, and hovers in between.

Each of us has our own brand of thinking. How we think corresponds to our demeanor, assumptions, biases, and obsessions, all shaped by our experience on earth. Today’s poem self-consciously cautions us to the risk associated with thoughts that might fall in the category of pretense, or thoughts that are removed from the everyday. The poem’s movement itself montages a dynamic energy of symbol and form that paint an indelible portrait of an inner life and how we might learn, too, to process our world.

The Dangers of Contemplation
by Ron Slate

Follow the seagull aloft 
in arcs above the ballpark.
The mind can go that high and far.

The mind can hover surreptitiously
staring into the open skull of the stadium
and pick out something small resting there
and call it the enigma

in miniature. Popcorn kernel. Bottle cap.
Or a scattering of peanut shells.
So many spectators stained with condiments,
singing for spacious skies believing we see more 
than the gull can see.

Inevitably, one of two things occurs:
A. Vertigo as you look down
on the gull drifting like a dust mote miles below.
Or even worse, B. Confusion everlasting.

A baseball manager once said:
If you make a pitcher do something
they don’t want to do, no telling
how their arm will react.
The inner life, sealed.
The outer life, concealed.

The smell of the breath of the gull
is swirling above the pitcher’s mound.
The soul is the breath? The cry?

Then, the soul is what tumbles
from the gull’s anus onto a windshield 
in the parking lot just as a broken-bat single
plops into short left.

The mind can go this far.
The ace’s arm aspires to infinite angles
but three good pitches are sufficient.

Six relievers smell adversity in their pen.
The gull flies blindly in our sleep.
The spiritual life must not go too deep.

“Dangers of Contemplation” by Ron Slate from JOY RIDE © 2023 by Ron Slate. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Carnegie Mellon University Press.