I’ve been reading the poem “We Humans” from Darcie Dennigan’s book Madame X. I’m always fascinated by how much and how little a poem can contain. Kenneth Koch once said, “I like the idea of bringing the whole world onto the stage.” I get it. The potential for truth and its varied rhythms becomes more likely in, not so much an endless bucket, but a bucket in which an endless number of things might be fetched. The sifting of more dirt unlocks more gold. The juxtaposition of varied dirts is better than gold. The world has to be our subject and our audience, to some extent.
The title “We Humans” stakes a claim on a pretty big subject, but the poem’s intimacy and precision both keep its big promise in check and ultimately fulfill it. The poem opens, “My boyfriend believes aliens built the pyramids.” We readers get invited right into the bedroom where the speaker and the speaker’s boyfriend watch a PBS documentary on those same pyramids imbedded in the boyfriend’s belief. A lesser poet would mine intimacy from the chinks in this relationship, or worse yet make a voyeur of the reader. Sex scenes are fine, I suppose, but how many writers can truly render the act so its mystery rivals the mystery of the pyramids?
Instead, Dennigan creates a room as fragile and uniquely detailed as one in a handcrafted doll house: the unlit Christmas tree, those Oreos that cross an imaginary line, the paper roses equally likely in magic and science. The poem retains its status as miniature while still addressing belief and identity, what we share and what we want, what we want to share but cannot. The last line is shocking in its want. It effectively and personally calls for the world to continue.