Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nineteen

Yesterday I explained my new interest in poetry--something I wish to share with others. When I read some poems, they just click. I know what they're trying to say, and they say it in such a powerful way. And they're not all boring and dry. Some are pretty interesting, on pretty cool topics.

This poem, "Nineteen" by Elizabeth Alexander stuck out to me. An amazing poem on youth, loss of innocence, and Vietnam. Enjoy.

"Nineteen"
by Elizabeth Alexander

That summer in Culpepper, all there was to eat was white:
cauliflower, flounder, white sauce, white ice cream.
I snuck around with an older man who didn't tell me
he was married. I was the baby, drinking rum and Coke
while the men smoked reefer they'd stolen from the campers.
I tiptoed with my lover to poison-ivied fields, camp vans.
I never slept. Each fortnight I returned to the city,
black and dusty, with a garbage bag of dirty clothes.

At nineteen it was my first summer away from home.
His beard smelled musty. His eyes were black. "The ladies love my hair,"
he'd say, and like a fool I'd smile. He knew everything
about marijuana, how dry it had to be to burn,
how to crush it, sniff it, how to pick the seeds out. He said
he learned it all in Vietnam. He brought his son to visit
after one of his days off. I never imagined a mother.
"Can I steal a kiss?" he said, the first thick night in the field.

I asked and asked about Vietnam, how each scar felt,
what combat was like, how the jungle smelled. He listened
to a lot of Marvin Gaye, was all he said, and grabbed
between my legs. I'd creep to my cot before morning.
I'd eat that white food. This was before I understood
that nothing could be ruined in one stroke. A sudden
storm came on hard that night; he bolted up inside the van.
"The rain sounded just like that," he said, "on the roofs there."

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it's indeed a great poem - looking back at youth, without feeling any pride in what happened back then, but the nice thing about it is that the speaker doesn't judge herself or anybody; there is compassion, no regret, since she understood that "nothing could be ruined in one stroke" (my favourite line)

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