Ari Banias

Winner of the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award in 2014


I told you to write a poem about pockets
but now I want to write it
because you already wrote a paper on pockets in Dickens
and I have read almost no Dickens to be honest but pockets
what a staple of intimate transport both private and exposed
functional and decorative some faux ones even printed on
others in women's clothes hold almost nothing
intrigue me they have so many ways of being
prominent or discreet or altogether hidden
buttoned snapped zippered flapped but then also those
on fine suit jackets one has to slit the first time with a blade
the care of that and how sexual it is but this isn't what's
important about pockets pockets are dreams of negative
space and possibilities potentials secret inside-outside places
     a pocket
of thinking a pocket of resistance theoretical and cultural
writings on pockets exist but as with Dickens I neglect them
when it comes to pockets I prefer to think on my own
I still at times imagine my thoughts
in a small enclosure it helps me think better
when actually I have a mind full of holes they breathe
there's something sweet and forlorn about a pocket
with a hole in it a torn pocket a pocket that can't
hold what's important its one job a keeper
and through the compromised place things fall
down a pant leg or into the lining of a coat if it's cold out
one can feel a warm coin pass along the leg against the skin    
     maybe hear
metal strike the ground but not always, not always coins,
     maybe keys, if dropped
on carpet or in a loud place not heard, or not a hole
but a pickpocket, wind, carelessness, somewhere crowded,
when going through their contents in a hurry,
more and more of mine have holes as I get older
I'm too lazy to repair, or only notice when wearing this parka,
these pants, and picture when I get home
the needle and thread in the dresser and then get home
where my pockets no longer exist their relevance declines
     I forget
today I saw an old friend in a strange yet handsome dark wool
     coat that struck me
I couldn't say why, its eerie beauty
and I told him so, he said there are no pockets it's a prisoner's      coat


A. E. Stallings on Ari Banias

Deceptively accessible, the poem offers hidden recesses and philosophical depths, no less serious for being personable.  Is its artful affection of artlessness out to misdirect our attention, like a Dickensian pick-pocket?   I am reeled in by every turn of the first few lines:  "I told you to write a poem about pockets" (What an odd, specific command)  "but now I want to write it" (well!), "because you already wrote a paper on pockets in Dickens" (the "you" suddenly becomes rather an obscure academic, though it's also a charming pedantry that concerns itself with Dickens and pockets).  The poet riffs on and riffles through the "theoretical and cultural" import of pockets.  This is perhaps sufficient entertainment, but the poem strikes an unexpected note at the close that sets sympathetic  harmonics vibrating back up through the poem and sets the mind buzzing with uncomfortable dissonance. The poet encounters an old friend with a "strange yet handsome dark wool coat."  The friend's simple statements at the end, "there are no pockets it's a prisoner's coat," are cool and devastating in their explication and implication, especially in combination with the poet's remark on the coat's "eerie beauty."  A lack of pockets turns out to have as much negative capability as pockets themselves.   The poem is roomier and darker than we had supposed.

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