Friday, May 22, 2009

(1) Seed Across Snow and (2) John Updike

I just finished Seed Across Snow, Kathleen Driskell's new book, and I loved it. After hearing her read many of these at Spalding, some of these poems felt like old friends ("With a Shiner, My Husband Enters the Flower Shop," "Why I Mother You the Way I Do," and "Wedding Ring"). Others were wonderful new discoveries. One poem that particularly struck me was "Forgive." The poem begins: "Short, really short, I said, but I was in fact, not thinking/ of him, was looking out the wide windows, the traffic passing" (1-2). The effect is one of distraction, confusion, and the reader must sift through the details to locate the scene as the poem progresses, which is that of a boy in a barber shop.

The "him" is, as we learn, but not until line eight, the narrator's ten-year-old son, who is suddenly severely shorn. The narrator conjures up horrible imagery of prisoners of war and a "plucked bird," then says: "His crime? To have a mother whose head could be turned/ from him so easily" (13-14). The rhythm of these lines pounds the sinking realization of the narrator home. And the line break (beautiful place for it, on "turned") slows the pace just enough to emphasize it even more. The line does what the narrator cannot do in the beginning: slow her thoughts enough to turn them toward the present, toward her son. The last word there, "easily," falls softly from the tongue, making the indictment more tender.

Of course, I recognize myself in this poem: I too am the distracted mother, whose worst fear is that I will be distracted at the wrong time, and it will be too late to make up for it. I also love the end of the poem, "his furious attempt to turn this poem to cinders." Again we see the verb "turning," only now it is the son's doing. He is not successful in burning the words, which oddly magnifies the central conundrum of the poem: the son is in some ways less powerful than the mother's words, than her mental life, yet he becomes "the sun," exerting upon his mother the power of guilt.

Just a few thoughts. It was a fabulous poem, as they all are. I recommend reading Seed Across Snow.

Now for (2), John Updike, but briefly. I'll say more in a future post. I came across an excerpt of his Endpoint poems in a March issue of The New Yorker. As the title suggests, they are his ruminations on the death that is imminent for him. They are stark, heart-breaking, and achingly hopeful, but only half-heartedly. My aunt and I had planned to read some of his early short stories together, so I then turned to his Olinger set. Reading "Pigeon Feathers," which is basically an autobiographical account of one of his sweeping "fear of death" waves, after reading the poems had a profound effect on me. It has been one of those major shifts that happens after reading something so honest and brilliant that it can't help but change the way you think about life and the world and your small space in it. I continue to read from The Early Stories volume. More on that next time.

Happy, happy Spring-almost-Summer,

No comments: