Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Burglary

Back to some poetry: This poem was published in last year's (2009's) New Yorker issed in November. It speaks of a burglary and the aftermath of the crisis.

The Burglary

by Linda Pastan

They stole my mother's silver,
melting it down, perhaps,

into pure mineral, worth
only its own weight.

We must eat with our hands now,
grab for food

in this new place of greed,
our table set

only with memories, tarnishing
even as we speak:

my mother holding a shiny ladle
in her hand,

serving the broth
to children who will forget

to polish her silver, forget even
to lock the house.

While forks and spoons are divided
from all purpose,

patterns are lost like friezes
after centuries of rain,

and every knife is robbed
of its cutting edge.

I've had my car broken into before. I understand what it's like to feel violated and stolen from. It makes you feel stripped and naked, like you are only worth things and those things are not yours anymore. It makes you feel connected to those lost things, like you are now less of a person without them. But when it comes down to it, they are just things. Lost "things" should not be the end of the world. It still doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt like hell though.

This poem really gets the heart of what I'm talking about. It parallels between the purpose and intention of the criminals and the aftermath of what the family thus experiences. The criminals don't think about the other half of the equation, and it's hard for the victim to see the other side as well. The poet (writing on the victim's behalf) also doesn't know what the criminal is doing with the stolen items. She is making an assumption. Who knows what is true. But, it is true that both sides are both disconnected and not understanding of the other party.

Selecting to identify the stolen silver really puts a strong image in the reader's mind. We can now see the effects the family feels when they go to dinner, eating with no utensils. Even the simplest things feel the loss, and you take for granted the small things you have. You don't always see someone stealing from you these items, no pertinent and imminent threats. But alas, the silverware is stolen.

Pastan writes, "Now we must eat with our hands," alluding to the fact that they are now in a more primitive state, as if they have now been reduced to less of people than they were before because of this crime. Or, at least it makes them feel that way. It's as if you walk in the shoes of the criminal, feeling the dirtiness of a dirty job/act. Stealing is primitive, and so are the raw feelings they are now experiencing.

The interesting twist to the poem is that the mother didn't lock the door, so she probably feels extremely guilty for what happened, like she deserved it. She didn't take the precaution she should have, but she probably didn't think she had to. She had too must trust in the world, and can that be a fault? I guess it is in the world we live in. It's sad that we have to question others before immediately accepting them.

I really like the end, concluding with the knife and how it's lost its cutting edge. Clever. End with the hurt (the obvious weapon) when it's such an emotional loss that feels almost like a stabbing pain from a knife.

Even the structure of the poem looks like a utensil. I kind of like that. The lines are also very similar in their structure, alluding to the normalcy of their lives. But now they have been violently thrown off key, off balance. Something like this can definitely do that.

Overall, it's a concise, effective poem. It says a lot with little words. Well done.

So what do you think of "The Burglary?"


Mike said...

your thoughts on the poem were very interesting. While I was reading your post I found myself wanting to respond directly to you what I was thinking.

I like the ending, how the poem ends with "cutting edge". It's so piercing, the words themselves, how they sound. It portrays her anger so well i think. Like it's not over, she's going to pick up that knife and hunt that burgler down herself.

I feel like I identify with this poem because my mom is always telling me things like, "you can have these cups when i die" and "you could have my gold." etc.

I wonder if Linda Pastan's mother is dead and she inherited the silver?
"My mother holding a shiny ladle
in her hand,

serving the broth
to children who will forget"

I get the gist that she was thinking of a childhood memory of her mom using a ladle that got stolen. Giving the ladle and stolen silver so much more value than just its weight in silver.

I could see how losing a physical object is so closely associated with losing valuable memories. How many times has a certain smell provoked you to think of a certain place or person? It's interesting to think about how we remember memories. It seems like memories pop up so randomly. I love when I remember something I haven't thought about in so long. It's funny how there's so much stuff buried so deep in our heads. I wish I was better at getting to all this stuff. Maybe when i'm an old fart... Maybe that's why we are worse at learning stuff when we are older because we have stuffed our heads with all the good memories we want to have on the brink.

I keep thinking about the Fight Club quote and theme "don't let the things you own, own you.". But in a way I think that having these things around us make it easier on our brains. Maybe these things around us let our brains deep-six stuff we dont need to have ready-to-go. Kind of like transactive memory but with objects?

ughhh so tired! must go to sleep! I miss you Jami. Hope you and Kelly are enjoying life. I'm looking forward to the next time I see you guys. I think a game of four square is way overdue. Kelly reminded me when i saw her fb post. Good ole' Smith, Casey was so much better! 10th floor Casey holdin it down!

Jami said...

thoughtful comments. i like your new interpretation of the last line, like she wants to hunt down the criminal. i do feel that sense of anger spouting up, as if it would be easier to finish the business.

i like the other thing you bring up--about the childhood memory and the connection to the ladle bringing back the memory. it is crazy how items will trigger memories. i read a book once where our memories had storage like a computer and we could recall memories. i think that would be AWESOME to call back those memories that randomly spring up and bring a smile to your face. but, that also makes them easier to access, thus less exciting, rare, or special. but it still would be cool...

i love that fight club line (especially because i love chuck palahniuk). i try to preach that i am not tied to objects, but it is hard. especially those tied to memories.

like when my car was broken into, they stole my father's old sweatshirt that was from him. there are pictures with him holding me as an infant in it, and i always thought of that. and now that sweatshirt was taken; i felt violated like i could never connect with that memory. i guess that's what the ladle comment makes me think of.

good to share ideas with you again. :-)

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