William Bortz, “Clearsunned”

A few times I’ve been lucky. Got something like a posh hotel room—great view, immaculate walls, clean design—and witnessed the sun’s brightness set it alight. Not burning, not obnoxious, but as if the sun itself revealed a hidden clarity. “Clearsunned,” I feel, is a strange idea. I believe it refers to this experience, but this experience is also the product of perfect, staged photographs in magazines. Advertisements which try to sell a tropical destination or imported beer with white sands, vivid blue ocean, a distant but present sun. Ads inseparable from my imagination.

Clearsunned (from The Grief We're Given)
William Bortz
 
daily, I am
haunted by
the absurdity
of my smallness—

how do I ever become more

Before “the absurdity of my smallness,” I am haunted by his use of “daily.” Most days I fail to reflect on my smallness or limited time. This may be considered blissful ignorance, but in truth, I’m acting like a ghost. Mindlessly repeating tasks without demonstrating any awareness. More than likely needing a spark beyond myself to awaken.

It’s that thought which, I believe, gives this poem at least two possible tones with which it may be read. “daily, I am / haunted by / the absurdity / of my smallness— / how do I ever become more” strikes, at first, as a lament. It’s a lament I need to articulate but one that I’ve articulated in part. Worrying about my own “smallness” has led to many moments where I become disappointed in myself and do nothing. “how do I ever become more” has often been a fruitless whine for me.

But “the absurdity of my smallness” is a more complicated proposition. Even in the space of a lament, it challenges. How exactly is “smallness” absurd? One can say our smallness makes us absurd, but that’s not a literal read. Smallness may be absurd because we do become more, but our expectations serve as both a blessing and curse in that regard. When I demand of myself, I project a bigger version of myself onto a screen. And immediately the flaws are visible. I can’t be the image I thought I was. The images of others, like perfect, staged photographs, make the projection a further exercise in embarrassment.

All the same, expectations relate somehow to becoming more. It’s just never the way one expects. If one tries to have no expectations, trusting only in how others perceive them, one can’t even know if they’re more or less. I’m convinced, regarding this last notion, that I’ve been far too trusting in the evaluations of others instead of building my own. It’s sneakier than I originally thought: I’d assume they had some objectivity and insight I could use. I wouldn’t realize they’d have no notion of what my goals even were, and I certainly underestimated the level of self-interest in their answers.

The poem, then, reads as more than a lament. The seed of a realization exists in “the absurdity of my smallness” and “how do I ever become more.” We do become more. It’s possible for very damaged and even damaging people to still have value for others. (How much more value, then, if they tried to “do no harm!”) Smallness’ absurdity resides in the big dreams we have. Dreams which we can feel we’re not entitled to. Dreams which others can cruelly mock.

I think of the students I’ve had who want to be writers. How they’re often surrounded by encouragement and support, how lucky they are, how deserved every bit of that fortune is. There are so many who are tortured by others through “the absurdity of… smallness.” Told not to even try. Clarity can begin with recognizing the projections of others in one’s own head. At the very least, one can become more oneself with that recognition.

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