There was no chapter, a final chapter, on healing.
And so I’m going to the desert to finish the book. I’m going to heal. And I will be back. I’m going to the desert to break my heart, mind, spirit, and put it back together again with the sinews of a tenacious love and the will to complete what I’ve begun here.
Anyone who knows me knows I take my research very seriously.
I’ve never much cared for the desert. Not really. But I love blood moons.
So here’s to writing in blood; to letting go of what no longer serves us; to enfolding what we are, what remains, within the circle of new perception. Here’s to saying “I don’t know” with conviction, and “I will learn” with intention.
I’ll be back when the desert flowers alive, when the snow-melt reconnects the sunlight to the earth, and when my own light reconnects to the light of you–all of you–within, and without, my world.
When the final chapter of the book gives more than a commiseration–more than brothers and sisters in pain. My hope is to give the light of hope to the hopeless, or at the very least, a break from the carnage and a way–any way at all–to redeem the bloody mess of it.
Every so often I come across a poem that feels like a perfect poem. What does a “perfect poem” look like, read like? Who am I to say it’s perfect?
I don’t claim to speak for anyone but me, and perfection is found everywhere, it simply depends on your point of view. The poem “Grief,” by Cynthia Pitman, was perfect for me this morning when I woke up, when I finally stopped shaking, moving, and could see, read, and experience the world outside, via my inbox.
A perfect poem doesn’t look or read a certain way. It’s how it evokes, provokes, and elicits the reader’s reaction.
We read to find ourselves.
Didn’t you know? The highest calling of the writer then, is to know him or herself well enough to know their readers. Then, we write about us.
I came across a poem close to this one several years ago, in April of 2007. I informed my four older brothers who were planning Dad’s funeral that I would be giving the eulogy. I informed them, because they are all Mormon, and men run that show. But I was no longer LDS, so I didn’t play nor hold myself to those rules. I didn’t ask, only to be hummed and hawed until a well-placed hand on my shoulder explained the way of things. To ask would have been akin to relieving myself of the opportunity to speak at all.
So, I informed.
I was raised LDS, and my father, a convert to the Mormon Church when he was in his early teens, was far from the model Mormon man. And I wanted the huge crowd of people there—the biggest show of heads at a funeral I’d ever seen first-hand, who hewas. And it was anything but disparaging. I don’t find anything redeeming about sprinkling glitter on dirt or ash. And my father, while alive, had as much of that in him as light and love, so much he could hardly contain it. Yet, he could never quite feel it for himself, or show it to those he loved without some “sting” to it.
So my brothers had made sure to follow Mormon protocols: the services would be held in the “ward,” the LDS chapel my father attended with all of us for close to 40 years. He would be painted as a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He would be lauded for his unfailing testimony of the “One and Only True Church.” In short, it would be a lie, and I can’t—couldn’t—abide anyone lying about my father. Out of all of us, I knew him—and loved him—best.
Mormon funerals are not about the deceased. That’s on purpose. They give the…. metadata of the person: birth date, church “achievements,” a token nod to what they did for work and one or two personal, individual “markers,” (he enjoyed singing and playing the tenor saxophone in a band for…) then, they tie-in the teachings of the LDS Church with the “Plan of Salvation” and how everyone can be together, forever. Even Dad, the most perfect incarnation of “imperfection” I’d ever known.
I honored him by telling the truth, my truth, about this beautiful, broken, astonishing, miracle-of-a-man.
I held the printed-out eulogy in a folder, and my oldest brother asked to see it. Couched in “teasing,” he tried to grab it from me. I knew why he wanted to see it so badly. Had I conformed? Did I even know the protocols after being gone from the faith for so long?
No, I had not. Yes, I did and no I did not. Silly of him to think otherwise.
At the end of my eulogy, I included a poem, not a scripture from the Book of Mormon, as required. The poem is by Jane Kenyon:
What Came to Me
I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.
I could barely whisper my way through it. It captured everything, everything.
I remember one of my brothers asking me about the gravy. Dad had never even made gravy. So… It was either the MBA or the doctor. Can’t remember which one, but…very confused about the gravy. Otherwise, nice job, little sis.
Which brings me full-circle to Cynthia Pitman’s “Grief.” The poem, the process, the emotion.
Writing poems about loss, death, grief, is tricky. Simplicity makes the largest mark. The imagery must be stark—not bleak, necessarily—but stark. Otherwise, it’s too easy for us to wriggle out of the grasp of inevitability. The “assured outcome” of our own mortality.
The loss, the small mind-photos, the minutiae of a life, captured in a hard, brown gravy drip or a smoke-brown hummingbird. The empty barrel, a spindly stick of a branch.
Outside, a smoke-brown hummingbird flutters by the feeder, then floats on the cold wind to a spindly stick of a branch,
The handful of brown dirt we’re not allowed to throw onto the box except in movies, but flowers are allowed—as if the flowers will be sempiternal and, like the spirit of my father in the minds of those who wish and believe, will live on in full-color in Heaven. As if the dirt won’t subsume the strewn flowers once the casket descends to become One with the Earth.
strung sparse with wintered leaves, in the gray San Francisco fog.
The dusty piece of china, the gray fog of San Francisco.
The poet begins the poem with the word, “outside,” because death is out there, away from us. But if we choose, we can see it all around us. For the most part, we choose to NOT. Not see. Until we’re forced to see.
And that is the internal process of grief mirrored in the details of the outer life, the outer shell that constitute the “remains,” and what remains; the “aliveness” of the person in our memories and hearts.
But inside, inside…words, too many words, are not needed.
Inside, we mourn.
Inside, we feel, not just the loss of the person we know, knew, loved. No, inside resides the grief we feel for ourselves and for you, with you, our readers.
So, we find echoes of life within the dust. The fluttering wings, the cold wind, the branch that only sleeps in winter, but returns, blooming with life, come spring. Memories of dinners with brown gravy, laughter, families encircling tables, discord within the harmony, the memory’s edge softened with time, love, and nostalgia.
All the while, inside…the entire world as we see it through grief and loss, is covered in dust, clouded by the fog of inevitability.
Thank you Ms. Pitman, for showing me myself today as you showed us yourself, your grief for the dedicatee.
It’s that time of year again. The “I WILL read ______ this year.” For some, it’s Moby Dick. Others, War and Peace, or Ulysses.
For many late-Boomers and Gen-Xers, the generation’s most talked-about literary wonder was–and remains–David Foster Wallace’s epic novel, Infinite Jest. I read it back in 2016. Then I read it again in 2016. I am going to read it again because I miss it.
Here is my review of this seminal piece of literature that has the earmarks of great fiction: …”to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” as the author was once quoted as saying.
The Jest’s On You (and Me, and Him, and Everyone)
“It’s on my ‘to do’ list.”
“It’s my New Year’s Resolution–for next year.”
“It’s one of my top-thirty goals this year.”
“I’m going to tackle that as soon as…”
I have heard them all. And these excuses sound like people describing a dental procedure they know they need, but since it’s not an emergency, they put-off making an appointment. But they aren’t talking about a dental procedure. Interestingly, I’ve heard all these statements from people when I told them I was reading Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. I will set this disclaimer again that any book review is subjective, so there is no “right” or “wrong” in them, unless you totally miss the point, and I think a lot of people do. It’s right in the title: Jest.
As if I’m supposed to think better of them because it’s on their “to read” list, even though it seems that’s where it’s destined to stay. They treat it like it’s this task they must complete, along with training for a half-marathon put on by the local medical clinic every spring. It isn’t. It isn’t a huge mountain to climb, it isn’t a root canal, and it isn’t tackling a disorganized garage on a blistering Saturday afternoon. Not if you love Wallace and his writing.
So why do so many people treat reading Jest like a chore?
My theory is that it’s some sort of prestigious literary “hoop” within certain circles, and to jump through said hoop is a sign that they are in the literary “know” while at the same time retaining this “hip” quality of being a DFW fan without actually doing anything active to actually be a DFW fan. Cynical? Maybe.
That, and you can’t have a rudimentary understanding of the English language and read anything by Wallace because his vocabulary, and what he does with the written word, is nothing short of astonishing.
So, if you have a sprawling vocabulary in your noggin and you’re able to read his work without too many visits to the online dictionary, that must grant a certain level of intellectual “cred” and kindred “nod” of approval in this exclusive circle that’s been created. A circle surrounding DFW as a cult-figure, nothing more. The direct opposite are the haters, who poke fun at Wallace, his writing, AND at people who love Wallace. Lumping us all in the same pretentious steaming pile of literati-hot air.
Well, I’m not in it for the “smart-points.” I genuinely love his fiction, the way his mind works. I’m not as big a fan of his non-fiction writing, so there ya go.
That said, I go to great lengths to avoid books that attempt to emulate the pretentious garbage that sometimes poses as modern literature: inaccessible, disjointed, and decidedly void of human emotion. These books are the polar-opposite of Infinite Jest. The book feels like Home. I read it twice in 2016. It’s time to revel in it again.
Onto my review, I’ll just say this outright: if you think of IJ as a task to better yourself, improve your social standing, or as a cool way to get laid or winnow-out the “smart, bookish” sorts of people, just stop right there. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it, really. I mean…the book is absolutely worth reading, in my opinion, but don’t read it if it’s a chore, or you think of it as such. David would’ve hated that so much. He would have. It’s just a book, and reading it is like reading three or four books back-to-back, so it’s not like it’s any different than that. If something isn’t fun to read or doesn’t grab you by the throat and refuses to let go, why waste one precious moment of your life on a “have-to” that isn’t.
As always, and as I’ve said before, time and again: reviews are subjective. Infinite Jest is “entertainment.” Just like any other piece of writing. Yes, it crosses the entertainment-blood-brain-literary barrier with ease if–IF–you find it easy to read. Which I did. Doesn’t make me intelligent. I just didn’t have all the hefty expectations about the implications of reading it dogging me when I started it. Let those go and have fun. Get past the first 200 pages. Please, don’t stop there and say, “Ohhhh-kay, maybe I’m not ready to tackle…” No, No, No. Please. This book…has something incredibly important to say. Wallace had so many important things to say.
But you can take any superhero movie from Hollywood and deconstruct it down to the deep, universal themes that are the bases for every piece of entertainment, story, or art. I can take Deadpool and deconstruct it to sound like Citizen Kane, so don’t get all hoity-toity on me about “literature.” Please.
Look. The difference is, Wallace knew that most people would miss it/them. The themes he addresses go unnoticed by so many readers, critics, MFAs, classes, and even experts on literature, and I think that’s why he wrote the book the way he did. He broke walls 4, 5, 6, with metafiction that wasn’t metafiction at all. WE are the ones breaking the fourth wall as we read the book. We are the spectacle and the spectators. We are a part of the “jest,” and so is he. He wrote the book to, in short, entertain; thus, I believe Wallace wrote IJ to be a literal part of the system the author successfully examines in the work.
The one thing that came across loud and clear: Infinite Jest is fun. It was tear-inducing hilarious. Then, there were parts that took my breath away; stunned me with the beauty of his intricate scrutiny of ordinary, mundane things. Things, people, events that came across as sacred moments.
And, of course, extremely UN-ordinary things, like a character being murdered with a broomstick. I found my eyes filled with tears. Not of sadness due to the over-the-top and albeit shockingly violent fictional-murder, but the beauty Wallace reveals as a character—one we not only don’t know much about, nor care about very much—dies on the page. The way in which Wallace tackles this gives us a glimpse of the shuddering, emotive landscape of the human condition—all congealed into this grossly exaggerated, yet poignant scene.
IJ is a clown, a gag, a self-indulgent romp through a sea of words that is so self-aware of its decadence, that, too, becomes a parody. Not only was it fun to read, it was probably a total riot to write (between the bleeding, of course). The irony of this book: while some portion of the reading population treats it like a chore they have to complete before they are allowed to brag at their book club, they are missing the real reason they aren’t reading it, and it’s this: most people don’t want to WORK that hard for their entertainment. And if you read IJ, the irony of that will crack you up.
Of course, the deepest themes are breathtaking. The brilliance of this writer is a brilliance that dwarfs any writer I’ve read before or since, especially in this book. But the brilliance isn’t about the language, or even the themes, but the way this author’s mind worked, and I can’t say here the deep loss I feel personally, as well as for the world, I feel at his absence from this existence. I’ve never mourned someone I never met until now.
To say Infinite Jest is one of the most important books of our time is, of course, subjective. But I think it is and I think I’m right. And it isn’t difficult to understand these themes if we simply let go and immerse ourselves in the speculative fictional world he creates: a world that is no longer speculative, but on par with what’s happening now, today, in front of our very eyes.
Wallace pummels us with these themes between and within the hyperbolic hilarity. He never lets us forget what he’s trying to accomplish. You really don’t need to work that hard for the message if you accept that the medium is the message within the medium’s message.
Themes of addiction are in your face, but look past the “substances,” the “drugs-of-choice,” and find the universal substance. He doesn’t use this book as a platform, or a didactic warning against addiction, despite what conclusions other people have drawn. In the book, Wallace shows us that addiction is in our natures, in our psyches, and in fact, I posit that the message of IJ, “in toto,” would be that we crave the processofbecomingaddicts. We seek it out. We are dying to “give ourselves over to something completely.”
We view serious drug addicts as “other,” when we, ourselves, are all addicts. The difference? Our addictions are socially and societally-sanctioned. Or, our socio-economic status affords us the ability to be functional addicts, with our DoCs at our beck, call, and within our price-range, always. If you can afford your drug? No one cares.
Addiction aside, this book explores fear, loneliness, and what we do to stave off the silence and keep the darkness of solitude at bay. We consume, consume, consume, and we never stop to think that the plethora of choices available to us is causing a social cancer that’s eating away at the souls of our individual psyches. Dramatic? Maybe. Maybe not. Look at social media. Wallace predicted everything, and it has come to fruition in various forms, but the prescience is, in a word, eerie.
If you think about it, our physical and psychological makeup is not much different than the human habilis who existed a couple million years ago.
If we could go back in time and bring a Chuck-A-Rama with us and we escorted these ancestors to a line-up of foods available to them, what would they do? Think about it. At that time, their choices of food varied according to season, area, and availability. What if they suddenly didn’t need to move, no more nomadic life for them, and they could choose from chicken, beef, vegan, gluten, or dairy-free? What if they didn’t need to physically work for their basic human needs, ever again?
I think they would have a certain period of violent adjustment, and then they would be…exactly like us. Eventually. The proof is, well, right here, in front of us. Wallace wrote about instant gratification before it ever became linked with today’s western civilization and technology.
And we are in crisis.
We are in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual crises.
We think more choices means more chances to feel, and be, happy. But Jest challenges us to consider the possibility that “to want” is more invigorating and purposeful than “to have.” And living with want, being and existing within “wanting” is why we strive, work, play, DO. When we have something, we no longer want it, do we? I observe so many miserable people who seem to have it all, yet they are only interested in getting what they want the moment the shine is off their latest object of desire. They want—always—no matter how much they have.
Choice is both a blessing and a curse.
And it’s not like we want our choices taken away. But we thoroughly enjoy taking our own choices away. It’s called “order.” And human beings thrive with order. We just want order on our own, specific terms. We want our escapism tailor-made, just for us. We want to choose our masters to whom we will be dutiful slaves.
We want the illusory control over our addictions, so we choose a different reality show, a different diet, a different weekly box-office hit, a different Bejeweled app, but we never stop. We don’t know how to stop. To stop would be to face our greatest fears. Fears such as contemplating the meaning of our existence, the purpose of our lives in the grand scheme, and why do we feel—with all the different ways to connect—so very alone?
A huge part of our addiction is the addiction to the Self and how we are perceived by others. So we strut and wave our CVs, our big houses and shiny cars; we Photoshop our images for social media and count our “Likes.” We place our value on extrinsic things without examining the intrinsic price we pay for them. We watch our sports teams, we attend our church meetings, we watch our shows and we attend to the minutiae of our daily lives, so focused on what’s in front of us, we don’t have to look down wind.
The solipsism of these last two decades, with the advent of huge technological advances, is almost absolute. Although the advent of “leisure” as a possibility and a concept has been around much longer. This solipsism is how we allow people in this country overflowing with food to starve to death. It’s how we allow people to suffer and die in a country rife with quality medical care, but no way for a certain portion of the population to access it.
Do you think, in a hunter-gatherer tribe 2.6 million years ago, a widow and her children would have been allowed to starve? Left to fend for themselves, abandoned? No. They cared for their tribes’ members. And I know this because anthropological research shows that tribes who displayed high levels of altruism were more successful and more proliferative than those tribes who displayed a tendency for selfishness and a disregard for community. The people who survived were those who took care of their own. It’s in our DNA to be altruistic; but things, they are a-changin’.
Our solipsism has become self-sustaining. We allow the weak and the downtrodden to fall away. Selfishness is being encoded into our DNA as we speak. If you question that, take a look at any thirteen-year-old and try to evoke empathy in them. It’s not there, and this should terrify us. We had shows in the 90’s like Seinfeld, where well-to-do malcontents created chaos out of nothingness and wallowed in self-obsession and self-involvement and that was our entertainment because we could all, on some level, relate.
As for our children, we have to actively teach empathy and compassion, or they will be swallowed up in themselves and the self-centeredness of the technological age. And that, friends, is an incredibly lonely place to be. There are only so many distractions before the emptiness takes hold. And what will our children do to fill that emptiness? Well, as we are seeing, there is no limit to what they can consume to stave off the inevitable. Meanwhile, we are all in crisis. All of us. If we don’t start paying attention, we could lose it all.
And so the somber, deadly serious themes of this book are there for the taking between each sardonic, hyperbolic line. The book is an entertainment, yes, but an entertainment to lure you into a big truth. It’s life-changing. And if it’s life-changing for you, you have the choice to act on that change. Or not. Interestingly, we still haven’t realized that the true paradox of altruism is that what is good for the “other,” is ultimately good for All.
So, read the book. Don’t read the book. It doesn’t matter. It won’t make you sexier or smarter or more fuckable.
It will, if you let it, change the way you see the world. What you do with that is up to you. Or just read it for fun. Let it entertain you.
I would be interested, however, to meet anyone who could read it for the sole purpose of a good laugh. I suppose, in a way, that would be the most infinite jest of them all. And I can’t help thinking that that was Wallace’s jest: knowing he was imparting this great truth, and yet there would be many who would “tackle” it with the lofty idea that they are somehow a part of his noble quest when in fact, they’re not just part of the jest. They’re the butt of it.
It’s easy to get caught up in holiday cheer. To get caught in the trappings of the “spirit” of the holidays.
The holidays are supposed to bring out the best in us, but it seems like it brings out the worst.
For many—too many people–the holidays bring with them grief, loss, pain, stress, unreachable expectations, bittersweet melancholy. Sometimes despair and darkness.
You can be someone’s light.
All it takes is stepping out of the clamor, and asking, with sincerity: “How are you– really?” And mean it. Really MEAN IT. The greatest gift you can possibly give, and it costs very little, is you, paying attention.
We are so invested in people responding with “Oh, fine,” that they give us what we want. They don’t want to be a burden. They know you’re busy, rushing to shop for the latest trinket to place under the tree. And we let them say “fine” because we want to stay in our bubbles.
Break out of them. Take the time.
A friend, a stranger, a family member. You have no idea how such an interaction will play-out.
And that, folks, is what they talk about in churches all over the world. The birth of the Son, the sun. The Light of the World is YOU. Is US. Within us, born inside us.
And the gift that story gives us, no matter your belief system, we seem to miss. Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh? They’ve been replaced with packages, gift bags, trinkets.
The central figure in Christianity was born without fanfare or comfort for a reason. The story shows us, from the very beginning, how light is found by wading into the darkness, whether someone you know, or a total stranger, and only for a moment, kneel with them in their despair. The warmth of human compassion is a light to the suffering.
Gold is so very cold.
How do we miss it?
The greatest gift you can give someone, whether it’s this time of year, or any time of year, is a moment of your time and energy to really care, for a brief moment. Let them know they aren’t alone in the world.
You just have no idea the power you have to save a life, in millions of unsexy, unremarkable, yet potent ways.
I wish you all, not “happy” holidays, not “merry” anything. I wish you all comfort, peace, and the humanity, the best parts of you, to come out this season. Then give it away.
Imagine a world where THAT was the most valuable gift. A world where “Black Friday” was not lining up at the store, but at the shelters and kitchens to help. Visiting the sick and infirm. Giving of the vast love you have within you. And unlike the newest tech gadget, no need to update. It won’t ever become obsolete.
It’s the world’s most valuable commodity, and it’s available to everyone in unlimited quantities. You won’t run out. Give as much of yourself away. You’ll be so full, so full of light–you’ll have no other choice but to be a light in someone’s world—if for only a moment.
This poem was originally published in Vita Brevis, and was chosen by the editor as a favorite, so I re-read it again today, and it still tugged at me the way it did when I first read it. It begged me to take it apart.
Dismantling/deconstructing a poem is not as horrific or callous as one might think. I find intention and value in almost all creative endeavors, and to presume to know whether a poet made a mistake or didn’t execute something that is free-verse is, to my mind, arrogant. Of course, if it was a particular form, that might be up for critique for some people who feel they must stay true to the “correct” form. But to my mind, even that is absurd.
The point of poetry, to me, is to take what cannot be conveyed with simply a word or emotion, and attempt to capture it using words; capture it in a way that evokes something deeper from the poet, and within the reader, than what might be taken at face-value.
So I approach poems like these (like the plumb tree of which the poet writes), with the intent of plumbing the depths of how a poem impacts me, subjectively, and it is, for me, akin to entering a secret, sacred garden.
And it’s not mine and mine alone. It is one that the poet and I create together. A shared intimacy that poets create—unknowingly, perhaps—with readers like me.
(Please find the original at the link above and read VB’s other wonderful published pieces).
And so we begin.
The poet’s voice is conversational as she writes about one of the most universal themes in art: romantic love and loss.
So why this poem? Well, why not?
To be clear, many love poems speak to me—I am in love and have been for over a decade. But I’ve also lost love, as this poet and poem describes. This poem speaks more of the bitter loss than of the sweetness. Yet the poet deftly captures the bitter without hitting us over the head within the sweetness of longing.
I re-read the first stanza, and as I read, I had a bit of a struggle with the line (or lack thereof) breaks. The rhythm felt a bit “off.”
However, whether Ms. Lyberg intended this or not is interesting to me, because there is also a dearth of other format and punctuation “hints” that would make the poem clearer. I can only assume this poet did not want clarity for artistic reasons, and that is interesting to me on several fronts.
For me, it adds a layer of ambiguity and depth to the dissonance of not only the meter, but the words—which at first seem simple and straightforward enough. But taken as a whole, I think this poet attempts to go deeper than the tried-and-true formula. And in this writer’s opinion, she succeeds.
The dissonance of rhythm aside, the use of assonance and rhyme is clear throughout the piece. I think this dissonance is, in the end, why this “love poem” reads—and conveys—what it did and does for me. The almost cold way she conveys the interactions between the poem’s narrator and former beloved are, to me, clear and almost unnerving in their implications. I found this to be a wonderful device and she uses it well.
Mostly, the imagery she evokes is what has my attention and what, in the end, makes this poem so rich.
When you see the white clover sprawling in the meadow
do you still think of me even though our love
once treasured, is now with regret over?
This first stanza seems to say, simply enough, “What reminds you of me? What do you see that stirs within you, our love, “once treasured”? But what’s more interesting, is the use of white clover in a meadow.
Each stanza begins with the introduction of a new flower, up until the final one.
White clover is, in some places, considered ordinary, hearty, and invasive. It is used as an almost-throwaway “filler;” a “living mulch,” planted within irrigation systems of vegetables. Hardly romantic. However…
On some level, don’t we all wish our love was as hearty and vast as a meadow of white clover? But when it becomes so, it is no longer romantic love, however, filled with promise and fluttering hearts. It is the mature love that one either commits to, or abandons.
So, the first question to her lost-love reads, to me, as this: “Do you recall our love when it was so vast, it sprawled across our lives like a meadow? It provided nourishment for the foodstuff of the roots, the foundations, of a love I once thought to be forever?”
Or does the poet set the stage, from the very beginning, of a love that will never recover, because it failed to continually bloom?
The second stanza, she once again introduces a flower:
As for me I can tell you, the plum is blooming now I remember the promises we made underneath its burgeoning boughs And I will wonder ever after if you remember too.
Many plum blossoms are delicate and susceptible to frost; the opposite of the hearty wild clover. So, then, were the promises made under its boughs as brittle and fragile as the blooms?
When the first wave of springtime cold came, did the promises made wither and shrivel in the throats of the lovers?
The phrase “hope springs eternal” comes to mind, as spring=hope, and the blossoms of a plum tree are the first, early signs of spring, thus they symbolize hope, the return of warmth from the wintry chill.
Love blooms, boughs, depending on the age of the tree, either bear or break under the weight. The tree is an umbrella for the young love, but the boughs, burgeoning, becoming. Was this the first sign that the love was transforming, even as promises were made under the young, promising tree?
The yellow roses came today and I read the message within Can we please forgive and forget all we said back then I beg you my love can we renew our cherished love again?
The introduction of yellow roses is significant to me because yellow roses hardly speak of love or passion. In the language of roses, they not only symbolize platonic friendship, but they speak of infidelity. Given to a former lover, they are an expression of regret for being unfaithful in some way. Sometimes they speak of the joys of friendship, but in this context, they are the palest form of emotional expression (in the language of roses), which tells me, the reader, that his gesture is simply that.
So, her lover sends her a bouquet of yellow roses, and without anything to denote his “voice” at all, the poet incorporates his “message,” although she’s careful to omit anything written, such as a note or card.
Hence, I conclude that the roses are the message, unto themselves. The words, “forgive and forget,” and the lack of passion in the way the poet conveys his message, “I beg you my love can we renew our cherished love again?” with an almost flat intonation, a rote I’m sorry. A message she has or had heard too many times before. An expression of regret that, perhaps, was also delivered in the same tone and within brittle promises under the boughs of the burgeoning plum tree.
And so today, I measured and took stock of all we shared with my heart still longing, and my lonesome soul laid bare I sent to you the dried red rose you first gave to me with this simple note, let’s meet tonight when the moon is bright under the plum tree.
The poem’s narrator takes “stock and measure.” She did not think or consider with her heart, but with her mind. Is it possible her heart is a barren meadow, now that he left it scorched with too much sun, too many dry, vapid vows?
And although her heart, “still longing,” her loneliness, apparent, she sends back to him what remains of their once-treasured passion and love: a dead, dried, red rose. His first gesture, a live, robust bud, now only a skeleton, a lifeless memento of what was once new and deep.
Her note, again without the emphasis one would normally use in formatting, asking him to meet her at the place where they’d once promised so many things—too many things—to each other.
Did their first meeting under the plum tree happen in the daylight? In early spring? And the moonlight here suggests to me that perhaps she is willing, even after all of it, to begin again. Her longing and loneliness too much to bear. So, under the shadow of night, of lids and a mind’s eye, dark and half-closed, she will again listen to his promises. Will she promise as well? Will she meet him, if only to mitigate the bare soul of her lonely life? Or will she meet him to remind herself of what was lost, and what can never again be.
I can’t help but think the return of that rose to her lover will be fraught. To open the box and find his first profession of love, decayed and dusty, possibly shattered en route, with only a stick for a stem, and thorns, the only thing unchanged. Will he come to see her under the moon’s light?
Even more vital a question, will she? Or does she lure him there with her note, a symbol of his broken promises within the returned, crackling petals, surely blackened with age, to sit alone under shivering blooms and a cold, calculating, moonlit sky.
I find it interesting that some poets feel the need to tell me what’s really behind their poems after I’ve posted a deconstruction. As if I somehow “missed” their intent, and therefore on some level I’ve either failed to deconstruct it properly, or they somehow failed to convey their poem’s significance and essence.
I’d like to suggest to these poets that neither you nor I “failed” at anything. In deconstructing your work through my lens, I’ve revealed as much about myself as you, if not more.
Once your work is “out there,” you lose control of how it’s perceived. So, you may very well have meant something totally different than what I gleaned.
Keep in mind: that is the beauty, and I daresay, magic, of the written word and poetry itself. We don’t read poetry to see you. We read it, and all literature, to see parts of ourselves, whether more clearly, or for the very first time.
Your job is to tell us what you see in the mirror when you look at yourself, reflected in your words. Ours is to see ourselves with your words superimposed on us.
And that is a gift that leaves us, if you do it right, forever changed.
I’d like to thank this poet, Linda Lee Lyberg, for sharing this piece, and of course Brian Geiger for his literary endeavors with the wonderful journal, Vita Brevis. You can find Ms. Lyberg’s blog, Charmed Chaos, a blog that promises “Charmed Musings on Life, Love, and Linguine,” and one I look forward to exploring more.
My article–2 years in the making–because to write of it as it grinds away at me was, in a word, excruciating. But it’s done. It’s up. It’s out. Watch, share, and help save lives, in the most literal sense.