Changing Voice

As I said in a previous post, I think I’m working on a memoir in poetry form. I’m not sure yet; I have to see where this series of poems ends up going.

Here’s one of my new ones. It’s been through Don’s eyes once in a version partway between the two below. I warned him in advance that I didn’t think it was good enough. I was right.

Here’s its original version:

Longing to Let Go

Where to bury you? I look at my dresser
drawer, wood sides dovetailed to hold
a week’s worth of life, the necessaries
laundry takes for granted and eyes
barely see. I could slide memory, a flat
blank envelope under my winter socks, thick cables
to weigh it down, keep it out
of sight, better yet, buy liner, pink chrysanthemums
on thick paper that won’t show
the thinnest bulge so I can forget.

Earth would be better, a dark spade under
a city’s stars, except grass cries when its ripped
and a flower bed will know the hoe. I don’t want
you coming back, stained with more
dirt. I need a building site, the hole
dug, forms laid, waiting for the white chute
of concrete to thunder down and me
a shadow first slipping you under a veil
of fresh earth. But how could I allow
another house to stand on your lies, how could
I allow children to sleep where you
wait. I walk streets, carrying
my knowledge of you in a splitting
head and cannot lay you down.

When I went to edit this, I found I automatically switched it to the second person, which is what I’m now mostly writing in. This voice allows a certain distance, one I am more comfortable with. And it matches a certain distance in myself, an observer stance I have had since my childhood.

Don had told me the language needed more work, more deepening; criticisms I agreed with. I briefly used the wordplay exercise he’d given me to reimagine the beginning of the poem. I cut and rearranged, rephrased the ‘pink chrysanthemums’ to better contrast what it is my narrator is hiding. And I tightened everywhere, so the images I use can sing better.

I also slipped in a time reference: ‘before the fall’, that I don’t expect some readers to catch. But that’s all right. Finally, I changed the trite ‘splitting head’ to ‘a head of cracking porcelain’, which for me evokes the line ‘things fall apart’ from Yeats’ The Second Coming.

Longing to Let Go

You need a burial place. Search your bedroom as if it were
a flat green space studded with the uprights of rock. A dovetail
joint catches your eye, a drawer holding a week’s worth
of life, what a washing machine knows
by heart and eyes ignore. You could slide memory
as a fat envelope under the thick cables of winter’s
socks. Or better, buy liner, summer’s pattern on a thickness
of paper to hide pain’s bulge. You know earth
would be best, a dark spade under the city’s stars, but grass cries
when it’s cut and a flower bed remembers the hoe’s sharp
edge. You don’t want them coming back, stained with more dirt.
So you search out the dug depth of a building
site, forms laid, waiting for the white chute to thunder
down and you, a shadow slipping them under a veil
before the fall. But how could you allow
another house to stand on their lies, how could you allow
the little ones to sleep where they lie waiting. You can’t.
You walk streets carrying your knowledge in a head
of cracking porcelain and cannot lay it down.

I think this poem will need another revision or two. But it’s getting there.



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