Thursday, March 25, 2010

From the Lives of My Friends

The New Yorker has really got me into the twin poets Michael and Matthew Dickman. Every time I see a poem of theirs, I get really excited. I've already written a blog post about them (as they are two average guys making a living while pursuing their poetry), and they continue to prove to me how fabulous their writing is.

From the Lives of My Friends

by Michael Dickman

What are the birds called
in that neighborhood
The dogs

There were dogs flying
from branch to

My friends and I climbed up the telephone poles to sit on the power lines dressed like crows

Their voices sounded like lemons

They were a smooth sheet
They grew

black feathers

Not frightening at all
but beautiful, shiny, and
full of promise

What kind of light

is that?


The lives of my friends spend all of their time dying and coming back and dying and coming back

They take a break in summer
to mow the piss
yellow lawns, blazing
front and

There is no break in winter

I am in love with the sisters of my friends
All that yellow hair!
Their arms

They lick their fingers
to wipe my face

of everything

And I am glad
I am glad
I am

so glad


We will all be shipped away
in an icebox
with one word OYSTERS
painted on the outside

Left alone, for once

None of my friends wrote novels, from the lives of my friends came their lives

Here's what we did
we played in the yard outside
after dinner

and then
we were shipped away

That was fast--



I see this as a coming of age poem. The way I read it, the speaker is reflecting back on his childhood and where he is today. He and his friends perhaps grew apart from their childhoods together, which seemed to be close but now adult life has interjected.

In the first section of the poem, the speaker and his friends are using their imaginations (something that seems to be lost by the end of the poem). It is a pure experience that the children share together. They call birds dogs and watch them fly. Childhood is so simple--they watch birds fly and it's a fun afternoon. They are curious and want to explore. They climb, they pretend, they watch. Their voices sounded like lemons (lemons are bitter, perhaps trying to connect the sound with a taste, and yellow to connect with brightness). These birds eventually grow black feathers (alluding to darkness), but the boys are not frightened. They experience life together.

What kind of light is that? I'm still trying to figure out the significance of that...

In the second section, the speaker has grown up a little bit, at least to the point where he is an adolescent. He is starting to have feelings for the friends' sisters. Another reference to yellow (connecting with lemons and the piss-yellow lawns). Instead of playing all the time--like they used to do as children--they only really hang out for long periods of time during the summer. School is now taking up time in between. Even in the summer they are filled with chores and tasks of mowing lawns and jobs. Licking their fingers is a sexual reference to his connection with these sisters (who seem to be more available to him than the friends) and they wipe his face clean. This implies that it was dirty before (perhaps from mowing lawns and working), almost like their are purifying him (making him cleaner). To me, their relationship seems to be dirtier than it does cleaner. The repetition of "glad" almost connects back to their sexual relationship, especially since it gets shorter and shorter as the stanza goes on.

The third section references the boys going off to college, like they will be shipped off in ice-cold boxes (which sounds quite morbid). They will be labeled OYSTERS which is an organism that looks just like the next one. There is no individuality about them. They are just students, BOY A, BOY B, etc. and they will be shipped off just like it happens each year. At least when they are shipped off they will be left alone, for once. Even the term "shipped off" makes it seem like it's not even their choice. They are doing what is expected of them, and they will follow these commands like obedient, obsequious robots.

At the end of the section, the speaker seems to go back in time to when they used to play outside, and then the rest seems like a blur. Now all of a sudden they are leaving and going off to college. He even mentions how fast it all went. Growing up was bitter and bright, a juxtaposition of good and bad.

The structure of the poem suggests that time is slipping away. Lines go from long to short, suggesting that time is coming to an end, diminishing. Even the fact that there is rarely punctuation (which means the poem is read faster) suggests that these events are happening quickly and you have to keep revisiting it to understand all that has happened in this short time period. But as the poet does, you can even section off a life into parts. This is easy with school years. Childhood. Adolescence. College.

The speaker gives us colors and tastes to connect with his response to growing up. Lemons. Yellow. Black. Crows. Warmth (summer). Oysters (bland, dull, boring is what they have become).

I think it's interesting that he titles it about his friends. Why would he place THEM as the subject of the poem? It seems more to be about his experience growing up, but they seem to be at the center of it. Unless, maybe he's trying to separate himself from them, almost like they had a different experience from him. Perhaps he will not become the oyster (the different one), and his friends will be just like everyone else. While he experiences love and branches out, his friends are living standard lives. This is all just a guess. I need more guidance from a fellow lover of poetry to add some additional input to me.

So what do you think of "From the Lives of My Friends?"

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