Author/Poet J.A. Carter-Winward, Contraries and Contrasts, deconstruction, Featured Poet, Light and Dark, Poetry Crit, Poets, Proper-schmoper: Form and Formality, Subjective Experience, The Word, Vita Brevis, Writers, Writing Community

Under the Plum Tree—by Linda Lee Lyberg: A Deconstruction

church flower
Church Flower, JACW Photography©

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.

Thank you for reading, and as always—

Je te vois—

~J.A.

 

 

 

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