The image of “whales adrift with harpoons of another era” reminded us
of a similar moment in Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish.” If the pieces of
fishing line in the Bishop poem comprise “a five-haired beard of
wisdom,” then are your whales similarly wise?
“Wise” can be a tricky word. I’d say Bishop’s fish is more lucky;
after all, even she releases him back into the water rather than a
skillet. Way up North, certain Bowhead whales have been discovered with
harpoons still lodged in them, making these creatures well over a
hundred years old and, I’d say, damn lucky. We might say that they’ve
“wised up,” since now they are very reclusive, human-shy creatures. I
am most interested in the idea of the paper (or hook & harpoon)
trails that we humans leave. Is it a comfort that we can follow
ourselves backwards? Does this mean that we are never lost?
As editors who are older than 28, we
must admit that we laughed when we read the line, “I gave up/slept on
the floor for the rest of my life and at 28/ went out.” The voice that
would speak this line seems full of innocence to us. Does the poem
mourn or celebrate such innocence?
It’s more like this poem signals a new
phase of innocence as it is ushered in. I never saw myself as a person
in the world past the age of 28; it seemed like the edge of the
universe. Now that I’m 30, I’m entering even more uncharted territory,
just like those sister Voyager spacecraft at the very edge of our
galaxy and still pushing onward.
Looking a gift horse in the mouth is a
good way to make enemies of friends, but in “Gift Horse,” the givers
already are enemies. In this context, how important is it for anyone to
be “polite” in this poem?
To me, these enemies are just about the
worst. Instead of giving you the opportunity to fight, they hand you
crappy gifts. And what do you say to that? No, thank you? Confession: I
have a soft spot for the Disney movie, Pollyanna
the one with Hayley Mills. Pollyanna is sent on do-gooding business for
her aunt, and has to take a basket filled with calves’ foot jelly to
crotchety Mrs. Snow. Mrs. Snow is the epitome of someone burdened by
the many gifts of enemies. She doesn’t smile when handed that basket.
Mrs. Snow winces, she frowns. That basket is a world of heavy in her
arms. If only we could all have the courage to be so honest.
In “19,” the speaker and other figures
struggle to “hold” or “clutch” things. In the final image, the
fisherman’s arms “only hang from their sockets,” making them
unrecognizable. If something has to be held in order to be known, then
why does the speaker run away from the “cricket” that is contained in
her own body?
People within this poem clutch or escape
to something tactile in moments of incredulity. Faced with bizarre
truths (i.e. voice of conscience/“cricket,” apparition of loved one,
castaway discovered by vacationers), that which they hold acts as a
fulcrum of sorts. The object (boat, bialy, binoculars) grants them the
foolhardy ability to negate what they see. I don’t blame them for that.
Who hasn’t wished to dismantle the truth in order to find a place of