Saturday, May 7, 2011

"A Story" by Li Young Lee

Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can't come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don't go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his skirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy's supplications
and a father's love add up to silence.

This is another poem I found that I liked. It reminded me a little of my dad.

"Grief" by Elizabeth Barrett Browing

TELL you, hopeless grief is passionless;
    That only men incredulous of despair,
    Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God's throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness
    In souls as countries lieth silent-bare
    Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death—
    Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
    Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

I happened to really like the poem, especially the last two lines about the statue. It took me a few reads to get it, but now I love it.

"What the mirror said" by Lucille Clifton

you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.
you not a noplace
mister with his hands on you
he got his hands on

I like this poem for two reasons. I really like the theme, and the rhythm to this poem is wonderful. The idea of a mirror prep-talking a girl may sound cheesy, but it's actually more true than it might appear at first. I've definitely stood in front of the mirror in my mirror and done that positive self-talk. Sometimes, being a girl or a woman can be incredibly hard. It's easy to believe that you're insignificant or ordinary.

There's a sort of irony to the title "What the mirror said." Often, when girls look in the mirror, they see someone fat, stupid, un-cool, or whatever else negative there can be to looks. It's strange, then, for a mirror to be saying, "you a wonder." I think this poem does a good job of the insecurities of a woman's life. It can be guessed that it is the woman saying these things to herself, not the mirror. So it would seem that she has a good sense of self-worth, but there's a sense of worry to the poem, like she's trying to convince herself that what she's saying is true. I like that the woman in this poem doesn't seem weak or completely broken like struggling woman so often are -- she's saying some pretty bold things to herself, after all -- but she isn't arrogant either. She's just trying to prove to herself that she has some individual value.

I also like that this entire poem could fit for any woman. Plenty of men can testify that "somebody need a map/ to understand" women. And the slang in the poem makes it seem like it applies to all woman, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, confident or beaten down. The words are simple and don't exclude anyone. And the message -- you're body is unique and something to be proud of -- is something that every woman should know.

But perhaps my favorite part of the poem it the rhythm. None of Clifton's verbs agree with the subject, according to standard English grammar -- and that's if they appear at all. She's using what has been called "Black English." The "broken" dialect of English grown in eighteenth century century slavery and latter slums. There's something warm, honest, and attractive about it. It's the kind of speech in which a girl can tell herself she's worth it without feeling guilt for being arrogant or self-centered. It skips the formality or political correctness issues of standard English to get to its point. And because Clifton chose such a "raw" form of speech, the whole poem is more believable. It's like the when a girl asks if a dress makes her butt look big. There's the typical answer, "No," that she's probably not going to believe anyway, but there's also others answers, like "Heck no!" that, while not exactly standard English, is still more believable.

Overall, Clifton's poem is just fun and encouraging. Perhaps I'll tape it to my mirror to wake me up it the mornings.