From Tracy K Smith’s collection Life on Mars (this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry) here is “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?”:
Modern poets who write about death, time, the universe, God, and that sort of thing have to steer a perilous course between the Scylla of ponderous self-importance and the Charybdis of facile flippancy, and even skilled pilots (Jane Hirschfield, Billy Collins) are likely to lose a few oarsmen in the process. So I remove my hat to Smith, whose serious evocation of loss (her own parents, her husband’s (?) lost love) is balanced by the rather silly redemption offered by the David Bowie in the sky:
This poem lives in the tug-of-war between our doomed lives here in meat-space and the icy permanence and artificiality of the astral Bowie, between the flush-faced running woman and the electronic screen that measures her life, between the Bowie who shops at the deli and the comet-like star-man who will never grow old, between the child who will touch life even if it burns (What “if”? In the words of Groundskeeper Willie, it burns like a Glasgow bikini-wax) and the woman who wants to believe in a metallic glam apotheosis.
In “Sailing to Byzantium,” Yeats says that he doesn’t want to be reincarnated as “any natural thing,” but perhaps as a singing metal bird I can imagine David Bowie diging this idea, and I can imagine Tracy K Smith going along for the ride. I can also imagine her getting off at the next stop, walking away with a wave and a wink.