Wednesday, November 20, 2013

poems for November 18 and 21

In November by Lisel Mueller
Furniture Stephen Dobyns
My Dreams, My Works, Must Wait Till After Hell by Gwendolyn Brooks
Cellophane: An Assay by Jane Hirschfield
The Envoy by Jane Hirschfield
Hirschfield’s translation of a poem by Izumi Shikibu

The poems for this week of November have somewhat of a thread addressing the role of time, and rewards of metaphors and looking at things from different perspectives.

For Mueller, she gives us the Hansel and” Gretl feel of fairy tale, or others commented,
a Rip Van Winkle-esque experience of waking up in the present, where a past life
100 years ago, is over, dreamt. "If I die before I wake" in the children’s lullaby
is replaced by waking to a present filled with coffee and sunlight. The longest line of the 19 line poem, “But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.” follows the line that “bad news is in distant places.” The Old Story and the personal “my” story point the reader to empathize with someone else living what could have been your life. It makes sense that Mueller escaped from Nazi Germany, and indeed, what might have been her story, was directed to others not as lucky.

I am reminded of Mueller’s poem “Things” in Dobyns’ poem “Furniture”, which provides metaphors on a meditation both perception of speed. The poem’s irony regarding perspectives on speed and our human tendency to rush into things (often missing the boat) and our view of the "stationary nature" of chairs, tables, is delightful. Ex. Facial movements and gestures, quarrels of chairs... and the fact that "They move
a little quicker than raindrops sculpt a rock."

The discussion focussed not on the cleverness, the contrast of our "persistent thought" and their inflexible humility, but the end:
"... Humbly, they allow

themselves to be pushed around, piled
in a corner, sold from an auction block.
Yet they always offer us the other cheek.

Let us crouch before them to gather up
the rich bounty of their wisdom. But no,"

Very tongue-in-cheek, with an enjambment/stanza break "they allow / themselves" which seems reluctant.
Martin offered the comment about turning the other cheek: if a nobleman struck a peasant, he used the back of his hand. So to turn the other cheek would force the noble to strike again, but use the palm of his hand,
thus putting the aggressor in the wrong. We would expect the a different last line after "But no,"...
not crouch, not gather up wisdom, but this:

"they don’t like us; they have never liked us."
I love the irony of the assumption -- which in a way opens the possibilities of examining relationship.

Going back to the "they / us" situation -- the enjambment for humans lies in the rushing:
" we rush and

rush and then arrive at our end. They see us
as we might see a speeding bullet. You ask
what has persistent thought brought them?"

Here, the human tries to explain what the non-human is about, in a way reminiscent of how each individual projects his worldview on others. Without ever saying how much we want to be "liked", or accepted,
or the problem of rushing about which interferes with creating opportunities for others to get to know us,
we end up with the world view of the non-human who has no use for us, much as we might need to sit on the fact.

Understanding the time period of poem delivers important context, as in the Brooks 14 line poem, written in 1963.
The hell mentioned in the title could be understood in a general sense, or the hell created by racial prejudice, and assassination of Martin Luther King, whose dream lies in "the puny light" of "wait". Note that the sentence continues with a semi-colon followed by eight lines introduced by "hoping"with the delayed object of what lies inward in little boxes of her will. The delay, the wait is drawn out, and she returns to the honey and bread of the beginning lines, but with a new twist --
"My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love."
What is "old purity"... what land of milk and honey keeps us at risk?

The two clipped sentences on line five hint at hell: "I am hungry. I am incomplete." -- with no promise, guarantee of food, only the slim hope of "wait". The risk that inner "food" can survive outer "starvation" is great.
See APR Nov/Dec issue for Jane Hirschfield's discussion of this poem in her article about transformation.

The Hirshfield poem brought up quite a bit of discussion about cellophane/saran wrap, transparency,
promise of sealing (in freshness,) and the cost of transformation from "noble tree" to weightlessness.
What protects, yet reveals is not so simple: we struggled with the lines:
"Your art is audible. immodest:
to preserve against time."

and image of the flute, and old words in translation, "seen through".
This yearning for an "I" to be such a "you".

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