Tuesday, July 04, 2006

poem: decision about reciprocity

Hey, here's something of a poem that I started a couple of days ago. Please let me know if you can't figure out what's going on, or if you're generally confused... I think there may be issues with obscurity here that I need to work on. Anyway, I hope everyone's well and is enjoying the summer! Thanks for your feedback!

DECISION ABOUT RECIPROCITY (title also needs work)

What crawls from his lips as vapor dirt,
tinged with scents of sweet salt-water
and rum, dissolves me from this chair--
this desk. I resume myself, half full of breath
and blood, in a spot of sparse straw-grass.
Beside a plastic pail and shovel, my knees
bump under my daisy and red-cotton skirt.
I will shovel my mouth full with dirt,
swallow and scan the tree-stubs
for a woody-chunk.

What looks exactly like white
breast-meat from a bird
fits between my lips.
What pretends to have died
flapping feathers with a song--I chew on.
Chew, chew, chew and swallow. He breathes
for me, so I swallow that wood
of reciprocity. For the seeming insect inching
from his parted lips, I nibble on wood
that once centered around a vein of green.

I gnaw hopelessly for that vein of living green,
while he breathes of masks:
opaque-scented, damp-living. Insects
whose colors adhere to leaves and grass.
What starts from his mouth
encircles me, my bent knees and bucket,
like a thick swarming of gnats--in my mouth,
nose, and ears. Still, he towers over my desk,
and I'm five years old again. He's there
at my desk with his elbows propped up,
a yellowing collar piqued for command;
he presses his fingers forward--as if
against a heap of sand.

It's what will topple at the slightest
nudge. I could swallow again, chewing
what he knows has never flown, nor bled
in red. Or could the wood simply
drop from my mouth: still-white,
wadded, slathered, smiling in spit?


Manisha said...


Wow. This is a powerful poem. I really like how it's so sensory and tactile. I have to admit I ran into the obscurity problem a little bit... but that was more a sense of not knowing what was going on in the overall narrative, whereas each particular image was grounded in tangible reality. The speaker presents a nice combination of impressionability and doubt which gives the poem its interesting complexity, and I like the uneasy uncertainty of the ending.

Now for my comments: Is there supposed to be a progression in the poem, or does it center on just one moment/idea? I recommend a more simple title--this one makes me think too much about it before I even get to the poem. Also, I found the transition from "chair and desk" (indoors) to the "dirt, insect, green" (outdoors) very interesting, but wasn't too sure what I was supposed to make of it. The idea is really cool... just clarify it for us a little bit? The only other thing I didn't understand was the "heap of sand" which would "topple"... is it something external, or a manifestation of an internal fragility within the speaker?

Definitely a thought-provoking piece overall. Lyrically, to me, some of the most beautiful lines are in the 3rd stanza. Very haunting. Nice job!