Thursday, March 29, 2007

Poem for Poetry Thursday

Happy Poetry Thursday!

I've been trying to write a poem about this incident for a while. It's still not there yet, so I'm considering the poem a bonafide first draft. In order for the poem to go where I need it to go, I have to push it there--and I'm not ready to do that yet. So for now, here it is and know that I will post a revision of it for NaPoWriMo.

Looking forward to reading all of your wonderful poems this week.



“How Did You Turn Out So Well?”

When she said it, it was the proverbial
needle-scratching-the-record moment.
July 4 party, husband’s birthday,
we had been talking about Ebonics
becoming a second language,
and why so many black kids fail in school.
With just a few simple words
she opens my attic door that old hurt,
the intractable sadness that rises in me
like a bad moon, to reflect back to me
in the face of a friend I’ve known for years.

The conversation leans in,
takes a sip of the stiff drink,
tries to keep its composure
in the wake of its ransacked heart.
How can I blame her for speaking what she thinks,
and for the answer she thinks she deserves?
I do what so many of us have done for generations:
hide my displeasure in pockets of silence,
even though her blue eyes and blond architecture
keep asking the same question
I’ve asked myself every day of my
dark existence.

33 comments:

Left-handed Trees... said...

January...this poem breaks open, crackles with the energy beneath this exchange. The words that leap out at me, "the intractable sadness that rises in me like a bad moon" and "her blue eyes and blonde architecture keep asking the same question I've asked myself every day of my dark existence." This stopped me in my tracks today...I cannot wait to see what you do with it.
Love,
D.

my backyard said...

wow. very powerful.

bookbinds said...

Very moving, this was the most powerful line for me, "she opens my attic door that old hurt,
the intractable sadness that rises in me like a bad moon"

Brian said...

Oh January, your title just rocked me. The cynicism and power in that phrase. I'm afraid to read the rest.

Harsh my friend, harsh. I'm sorry that these words even are considered normal by many.

Rose Dewy Knickers said...

Hi January,

I must admit to being puzzled. In my situation, it's hard to relate to the color as even being an issue. I understand some people divide the world by color; but why?

This is a very strong poem, but I can see what you mean about pushing you, it does have a lot of energy and life jumping off the page.

Rose

xo

Carolee said...

this is a tough subject. thank you for writing about it. and i like the way you're doing it. so many of us yell about subjects involving race. this is a more powerful, introspective, almost eerie way of delving into it. i like it very much. it makes the reader think about the narrator and the friend and our own sensibility.

kathryn said...

The second stanza has such impact. I enjoyed the metaphor of the conversation as an entity, the need for a stiff drink. I also liked hide my displeasure in pockets of silence. And that haunting question... A powerful piece.

wendy said...

I think the bible addresses this... something a bout a splinter in your neighbors eye..and a plank in your own???

I really empathize with the last stanza. The last lines.

It's one thing to ponder these issues..another to live them.

Well done.

poet with a day job said...

J - this section is the crux of the poem for me:

"With just a few simple words
she opens my attic door that old hurt,
the intractable sadness that rises in me
like a bad moon, to reflect back to me
in the face of a friend I’ve known for years."

It makes me think of when we as people hear someone who is wrong to say it, say something we might say ourselves - for example, my mother doesn't like gays, so when a relationship ends she thinks "see it wasn't meant to be" and she's right, for all the wrong reasons so I stay silent, unable to "get her to see." This is the main idea I am drawing from the poem, which pivots on that bit I pulled out.

This is a great draft! Hardly feels like a draft anyway! Hope my read lends some insight.

Thanks

January said...

PWADJ:

Interesting perspective, as always. You should write a poem about the subject, if you haven't already.

One of the things I don't think I convey yet is that my friend said it without malice. It was meant to be a complement. And I don't think I do a good job of conveying how I felt. So I feel like I have a lot to work with. I just have to get to a place that's not always easy to tap into, nor do I enjoy going there.

January said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

Brian said...

I actually didn't get a sense of malice, just ignorance. Maybe not even that, but maybe just on echo of my own past in the hurtful words that remain stuck.

January said...

You're right, Brian. She didn't know any better. Her husband pulled her aside afterward and told her she overstepped her bounds.

pepektheassassin said...

I think almost everybody has a place inside themselves where that "intractable sadness rises like a bad moon." It happens whenever we think offhandedly that someone else is "too fat," or "too thin," or "too black," or "too gay," or "too Mormon." This week in Salt Lake City a number of good midwest "Christians" are bringing 300,000 mean-spirited anti-Mormon videos to offer to us Utah infidels. It's too bad, like Wendy says, that people can't see clearly for the beam in their own eye!

la vie en rose said...

oh january...this poem is beautiful and heatbreaking...

pepektheassassin said...

PS. Just keep smilin'. Good poem!

paris parfait said...

Bravo! Fantastic poem, January! You've captured the essence of so many well-meaning conversations being stopped dead in their tracks. Plus ca meme plus ca chose. Sigh.

poet with a day job said...

J - I definitely didn't read any malice - like Brian I read ignorance. it might not be as far from where you want it as you think.

Kamsin said...

My feeling on the poem is that you convey well the complexity, of both this woman who probably meant well but couldn't quite hide her latent prejudice, and also of your own response to it. I still have questions about how you really feel about it. But I don't know if this is because you haven't expressed it clearly, or having been privileged enough to grow up in a time and place that as a white female the dominant voices told me I could succeed in whatever I chose, that I lack the imagination.

But anyway, I have been sitting here for over an hour now and maybe I am just starting to understand a little bit where you are coming from. There's so much more I could say about this poem, but I will stop here as I fear I'll end up saying more about me than you, or the poem, which btw, is stunning.

Catherine said...

It's a very powerful poem as it is. No doubt if you feel the need to "push" it, that's because there is even more power in the experience that you feel you haven't expressed. It would be interesting to see the result when you feel you have got there.

Pauline said...

"I do what so many of us have done for generations:
hide my displeasure in pockets of silence,
even though her blue eyes and blond architecture
keep asking the same question
I’ve asked myself every day of my
dark existence."

And what is your answer to that question? Even if the poem ends without the reader's knowing, does the answer somehow inform the feelings you so powerfully evoke?

Kimberley McGill said...

I like what D. said - the poem "crackles with the energy beneath the exchange" - I can only imagine the feeling that you hide in the "pockets of silence". As a reader, I would like a hint of that hidden energy coming to the surface - what do you think?

Powerful work.

bostonerin said...

This is a jaw-dropper, P-mom. I held my breath as I was reading it. It reminds me of your "Sounder" poem, but it's much stronger than that one. My favorite lines are
"even though her blue eyes and blond architecture
keep asking the same question
I’ve asked myself every day of my
dark existence." The contrast says so much.

But, in regards to the question of how to convey that she's speaking without malice, I think it's this line,
"How can I blame her for speaking what she thinks,
and for the answer she thinks she deserves?"
which is key. "Speaking what she thinks' implies, to me, a stance/determined opinion--"speaking one's mind." Perhaps tinkering with that line will help convey the intention? I'm not deft enough with language to offer any suggestions, but I know you'll pull out just the right nugget...

Remiman said...

January,
You've expressed your feelings so clearly here that one can come to understand you a little more with each reading.
Even when we mean well, we can unknowingly touch sensitivities beyond our awareness.
Although this piece stands well as it is, I'd be interested in reading it when you think it says what you feel better.

Becoming Amethyst said...

For me the crux of is the ambiguity of the word 'well' that conveys the ignorance, as opposed to malice. It seems to hinge on a conflation of (perceived)compliment (from the antagonist's persepective) and the whole insidious business of issues of 'approval' and 'acceptance'.

Being raised in a low-income, prejudiced and poorly educated family I have had people use that same phrase on me. Your words have certainly prompted me to think of writing a poem of how the context of this single phrase can take on such different meanings.

If you're looking for ideas of which areas to develop then I'd love to see an exploration between the difference of 'speaking what she thinks' and 'the answer she thinks she deserves'. From my perspective, I am thinking we all deserve free speech, but we shouldn't be expected to be cosseted from other people's reactions to the ignorances our own words might well convey. Just a thought. Or maybe that's the poem I need to write! :-)

I think this poem really is a showstopper, January. (I am smitten with the imagery of the attic door (had me thinking of Mrs Rochester)) and the bad moon.
Really exciting and dangerous territory that has gotten everybody thinking ~ and beautifully executed as ever.

love bb x x x

Becoming Amethyst said...

p.s. When I looked up the etymology of Ebonics I was surprised and disgusted ~ how skin crawlingly reductive...

chiefbiscuit said...

Thanks January for yet another stunner that pulls the reader up short - the power of language is in good hands when it is in your hands.

January said...

BB, you’re absolutely right. The tension between what I want to say and what actually happens is missing. Or maybe it's another poem.

A lot of what the piece is about is being in a minority class. So I think it's relatable for anyone who's been considered a minority or been treated differently for any number of reasons, not just race.

I hope you get to write that poem, BB. I'd love to see where it takes you.

January said...

CB, and everyone, thanks for the kind words. This is a tough poem to wrap my head around so thanks for all the discussion.

I am again reminded of how strong a community we have here in the blogosphere.

Crafty Green Poet said...

This is so poweful and so beautifully written, displaying again that the subtle quiet poem can say more than the angry ranting poem. Lots of wonderful phreases in here, mostly as highlighted by people who got here to comment earlier.

Kristine said...

Powerful.
I like the irony in the question of turning out so well combined with the "intractable sadness". I mean, did you see that? Makes me think, " Am I so well? At what cost?"

swissmiss said...

Wow. Just full of power and emotion.

Michelle said...

I'm sorry that this is the way it is for you. Definitely a back-handed compliment. I will come back for the revision -- although it is quite powerful as it stands.

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