Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finality, Beginning

The Day You Left / Mammogram  in Slate intrigues me.

This isn't so bad a poem, but it is awkward, the way it begins in the middle of a description , only adding specific detail and the associated metaphor in slow, deliberate packages of ambiguity. It is exactly like coming in late for a lecture and trying your best to suss out the meaning of terms, the importance of incidents, the interconnection between the highlighted portions. But while we slavishly attending to the imagining of back story , situation and how they inform the narrator's choice of confounding allusions, poet Terri Witek does a capable job of not giving too much away. We know only that which she allows us to know tangibly; the rest of the poem's sequence is something of a daze to an absent friend or mate , and the absence hints at the vanishing of all things certain. There are probes, there are scars, there is fear that what was young , vital, yearning is now aged and now conspicuously revealing the terms of decline .

So we're relieved both worlds include

only the grayish skies they drift through

and just one cupola or darkened hut.

These last, by signaling each other,

can gather, as the great head of Buddha

does from his amazing topknot,

all tender, contradictory feelings.

So what to do, rage, rage against the dying of the light, or slip into a cocoon of morose self pity and regret. Better to be the Buddha and embrace both the rage and the sorrow and merge them into a fluid state of being, a psychic equilibrium that might be accomplished with the acceptance of the exact facts of one's contradictory impulses and the inevitable death we are guaranteed. The body is the perfect analog of the earth, and will return to the earth at the final moments, ready to rejoin the great cycle of being and make another life possible.

There is, I think, an argument the narrator is having with herself, simultaneously mourning the loss of what had been anchors of certainty in her life--a mate, friends, her health an positive attitude--while at the same time appreciating a larger sense of things. She is, I believe, in the process of convincing herself that she is still situated in a framework that gives her life meaning, or at least certainty. It's not clear, though, that the narrator is entirely convinced, and this may well be merely a snippet of an ongoing monologue. Lack of resolution is an element I enjoy in contemporary poems--I dislike pat resolutions through lazy analogies or writing program tricks of how to get out of hopelessly muddled dead ends-- and Witek presents her protagonist as someone we come upon , in mid thought, and whom we leave, with her thoughts and contemplation, perhaps no where near the serenity she desires. What is tantalizing is the idea that her thinking, her considerations are the process itself with which she remains sane, balanced, and that this is less about the issue of the Mammogram and the abandonment than it is about how a good any of us are constantly rearranging the priorities and values in the rooms of our interior lives as an ongoing effort to keep from being overwhelmed with each bit of news that portends discomfort, inconvenience, finality.

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