Paterson ★★★★½

"A man like a city and a woman like a flower
—who are in love. Two women. Three women.
Innumerable women, each like a flower.

But only one man—like a city."
-Paterson, William Carlos Williams

In Paterson, there is only one woman, the flower that floats back and forth through passions and pushes the man to share his own. For most of his life, the man embodies the city, both in name and in action. He wakes up in the morning, carries his passengers through the streets, listens to their voices, and at night, he celebrates the city's legacy at the bar, discussing which parts of history should be chronicled on the wall.

But in the quiet moments, when no one else is around, he creates, puts words on the page that he might never say aloud, and in doing so he becomes a fuller part of both the city and himself.

The problem is that other than his wife, Paterson never admits to anyone that he's a poet. He doubts that it's even true, despite his notebook full of poems. When asked by the man on the bench what he does, he firmly describes himself as "just a bus driver." But when this man mentions that William Carlos Williams was from Paterson, Paterson quickly mentions that Williams was a doctor. It's in this moment, in the man's literal "ah-ha" that Paterson has to face the fact that his hero could have also described himself as "just a doctor."

After this interaction, Paterson writes:

"There’s an old song
my grandfather used to sing
that has the question,
“Or would you rather be a fish?”
In the same song
is the same question
but with a mule and a pig,
but the one I hear sometimes
in my head is the fish one.
Just that one line.
Would you rather be a fish?
As if the rest of the song
didn’t have to be there."

In the original context, the line "Would you rather be a fish?" carries a very different meaning, but in this poem, the rest of the song doesn't matter. What matters is the question. Paterson may continue to follow his routine, waking, working, watching, writing, but there's more of a reason, a purpose for it now. Paterson doesn't need to create something great in order to find himself or fit into the city. He is the city, harboring the words and phrases and life force of those around him and choosing to create something from them and for them.

Block or Report

TheLastPez liked these reviews