The poem is “Entire Known World So Far” by Carl Phillips (Poetry, July/August 2020).
I share thoughts about my readings with a correspondent who returned the following in email:
The part of the poem you copied out – where it talks of the wind, I had pictures in my mind of clouds with faces of puffed out cheeks blowing a ship along, as to be found in children’s books, but nothing, no nothing, came to mind with stags at the helm. I did like the sudden zoom-in to a dog’s underpaw though. I can see why poetry bewilders so many people and puts them off from engaging with it. It is not clear what is expected of the reader, there is a great anxiety of not getting it and being stupid, but also distrust at being thought stupid. Also laziness and an unwillingness to engage with things we don’t know what they are immediately. It is amazing how poetry has continued with all this against it! If you discover more about the stag, let me know.
Here is the part of the poem I copied out:
What’s meant to be wind emerges from what’s / presumably a god’s mouth, as if people / thought that way, once, as I have read they did, / though I have never believed it. Yes, / the stag inexplicably there on a raft / at sea, how the light catches in the runneled / fur of a dog’s underpaw as he steers / across dream; yes, the gods and their / signs if you want everywhere — // but the wind is the wind.
My correspondent says succinctly what I create pretentious language to skirt — that most of the poems I am reading in Poetry (the magazine) lose me in varying degrees — leave me feeling fallen flat, left out, perplexed, unfulfilled.
I only know to keep letting it happen and to question how and why poets do this, then to distill my baffled gleanings in evasive blog posts along the way.
The poem says other things and ends with this:
But the world is not like a human body. // Or the dark that, just past twilight, overtakes a canyon. // Or the shiver of sleigh bells on the collar / of an invisible donkey scratching itself / in the dark, / in the cold of it — // donkey bells…
The ending ellipsis is the poem’s, not mine. I’ve discovered nothing more about the stag, by the way.
(c) 2020 JMN