Saturday, March 6, 2010


Here comes another poem from a November 2009 issue of The New Yorker. It's another one that caught my eye and I would like a little bit of space to reflect on what it's trying to say.


by Sarah Arvio

The last thing I ever wanted was to
write again about grief did you think I
would your grief this time not mine oh good

grief enough is enough in my life that is
enough is enough I had all those
grievances all those griefs all engraved

into the wood of my soul but would you
beileve it the wood healed I grew up and
grew out and would you believe it I found

your old woody heart sprouting I thought
good new growth good new luxuriant green
leaves leaves on their woody stalks and I said

I'll stake my life on this old stick I'll stick
and we talked into the morning and night
and laughed green leaves and sometimes a flower

oh bower of good new love I would have it
I would bow to the new and the green
and wouldn't you know it you were a stick

yes I know a good stick so often and then
a stick in my ribs in my heart your old
dark wood your old dark gnarled stalk

sprouting havoc and now I have grief again
and now I've stood for what I never should
green leaves of morning dark leaves of night

Woa. A lot is going on in this poem. You catch yourself reading it the first time because of the lack of punctuation and the constant jumping around of thoughts. Nothing reads fluid--you have to keep stopping to piece together the phrases that are meant to be together. But I think the lack of punctuation is half of the point of this poem (or maybe most of its meaning): Life is unplanned, thoughts can go wild, and the way we read this poem is almost as painful and struggling as the experience of the poet.

Obviously, this is a poem about grief. It is mentioned five times. It is mentioned a whole lot in the beginning of the poem and then once at the end. The speaker deals with the loss (whatever it is to be named) and feels scatterbrained and lost. Repeating it over and over emphasizes how much sorrow the speaker feels. It's ever-present in her life and is difficult to erase. But, it comes back in the end, like it's something that can come and go--we can escape it for a little while, but as life goes, it can and will return.

The other heavily mentioned word in this poem is the title, wood. Sticks are also mentioned which in turn reference wood. Wood is first connected with her soul, "the wood of her soul." As if she is hollow, as if she is the living organism of the tree with deep roots that are planted so indefinitely in something (a person, a feeling) that can never be erased. As long as she is living, she will be feeling this loss, like having a branch chopped off.

Her soul is connected to something living--well, that is arguable. Wood probably connotes more the chopped wood than the living tree. We might call it bark or a tree instead of wood. Wood is the product of the tree. So once she was living and feeling and happy (as aforementioned) but now she feels like wood--as if she has been stripped, violated, and chopped to pieces only to be used as a source for fire. Or her wood could be used for a positive purpose (building a house, etc.) but she seems so disheveled that she doesn't know her path at this point.

I love the image of the "green" that constantly comes up. Green can sprout out of the wooden soul, a good healthy color to emphasize growth and change. She has overcome the dull brown of her life and is sprouting anew.

From this green there comes a no-named person who apparently helps her out of this dark time. This talks with her through days and nights, probably helping her cope and sprout the green to feel better, and he/she even helps a flower sprout which is even better than green! It's colorful! Her life now has color!

This person is a stick. So they're both wood; maybe they both have experienced loss and feel the connection. They have some sort of love between them. But then, in my interpretation, it seems like this person leaves her (either dies or chooses to) and this person's stick jabs right into her ribs and heart now. The grief then returns again, a circuitous motion right back to the beginning. It seems that the speaker has learned something, but that same raw, dark feeling comes back.

The way the poem is written is really smart. It makes us careful to read every word instead of flying through the poem. It almost feels like we're going through the mind of a child--scattered and all over the place--which is what it can feel like when you experience such grief. You feel small and helpless, and your thoughts can replicate a child's. "I don't understand..." "What can I do..." "Someone help..."

Especially when the poet ends on the word night, we are filled again with that sense of darkness creeping over her again. Even when she begins with "the last," the poem has to do with endings and dark periods. But, in the middle, we did have a high point only to drop down and back to the low. But, if this poem is about grief, it's going to be dark. It's going to be fitting. It's going to be appropriate.

The poem works well on many levels: repeating certain phrases, the lack of punctuation, the diction throughout, the images and words used to get the reader to think more in depth (wood, green, etc). Overall, it's a poem that can be dissected, discussed, and argued. Add anything you will if you find more.

And I'm spent on "Wood," but I do think it's a good read.

What do you think of "Wood?"

1 comment:

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