Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Body of Water"

Since the previous posting was "River," let's continue with an aqueous theme. Both of the poems below relate to a body of water, yet each poem does so with a slightly different focus. 
At first blush, Jennifer Michael Hecht's "September" seems to be a melange of different thoughts. We learn where the speaker is situated in a most indirect way:
. . .
I let my oars fall into the water.
. . .
My hand trails in the water.
. . .
I should not have dropped those oars.
. . .
Initially, people are "getting what they want"; then they are "getting just what they need"; later, those people are "so happy / that they have forgotten to worry about tomorrow."

Hecht is smack dab in the middle of an experience. What we have is a meditation, and the poem embodies that very experience: different thoughts cross-cut each other in an associative, intuitive, manner. The poem does not proceed linearly because the mind typically carries out its work in a non-linear way.

On the other hand, Mark Strand's "A Morning" proceeds in a noticeably linear fashion. The speaker sets off in a boat for Mosher Island, and the details of that journey are related in the order in which they are experienced. The speaker's realization is saved for the end: "saw for the first time / the one clear place . . ." . But for me, the key phrase is "I have carried it with me each day." That boat trip to Mosher Island has been recalled often, and its power/wonder is re-experienced by the speaker on a daily basis.
For Hecht's speaker, the (mystical) experience occurs only once, and we the readers are privileged to enter that singular, magical moment.
Poetry: so many different strategies -- ya gotta love it.  

                  September (Jennifer Michael Hecht)

Tonight there must be people who are getting what they want.
I let my oars fall into the water.
Good for them, Good for them, getting what they want.

The night is so still that I forget to breathe.
The dark air is getting colder. Birds are leaving.

Tonight there are people getting just what they need.

The air is so still that it seems to stop my heart.
I remember you in a black and white photograph
taken this time of some year. You were leaning against a half-shed tree,
standing in the leaves the tree had lost.

When I finally exhale it takes forever to be over.

Tonight, there are people who are so happy,
that they have forgotten to worry about tomorrow.

Somewhere, people have entirely forgotten about tomorrow.
My hand trails in the water.
I should not have dropped those oars. Such a soft wind.

        (from The Next Ancient World, page 32:  Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT © 2001)

                  A Morning (Mark Strand)

I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.

        (from New Selected Poems, page 163:  Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY © 2009)

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