The rain is a broken piano,
playing the same note over and over.
My five-year-old said that,
Already she knows loving the world
means loving the wobbles
you can't shim, the creaks you can't
oil silent — the jerry-rigged parts,
MacGyvered with twine and chewing gum,
Let me love the cold rain's plinking.
Let me love the world the way I love
my young son, not only when
he cups my face in his sticky hands
but when, roughhousing,
he accidentally splits my lip.
Let me love the world like a mother.
Let me be tender when it lets me down.
Let me listen to the rain's one note
and hear a beginner's song.
- Rain, New Year's Eve by Maggie Smith
I love thunderstorms, I love the sound of the rain, and I lovelovelove music. Any music. This poem reminded me of those passions. It's message is so clear; to try love the world with all of its faults. It may not be perfect, but it is ours and it is beautiful.
It is such a simple message, and it makes me smile because it's the exact same message that I was getting on New Year's Eve this year. Or, I guess, last year.
I was in a groupchat with a few of my friends — the friends that I would be with when the year came to an end, as a matter of fact — and one of them was upset about the year ending, about time passing. So was I, to be honest. She talked about how ugly the world was, how she didn't want to deal with the things that would happen in 2019, how nothing really matters, how she is scared to really love anything because everything is fleeting. But then, another friend — a freshman, believe it or not — began listing all of the beautiful things in the world. All of the things that are easy to love, that will always exist, like nature. She ended her list with one thought: "My love is in everything."
It's hard to be scared of loving things when all you do is love, isn't it? But it's true that sometimes it's hard to find that love of everything. It can be difficult to "love the world like a mother," to be patient and gentle with the universe, even when it lets you down, like her children inevitably do at times. That is why, in this poem, the narrator repeats the line "Let me." Because she is trying to feel the love, but she isn't quite there yet, like my friend who was strugging with the new year. She isn't perfect. Just like the world isn't. But that doesn't mean that there is nothing to love in it. In her children. In her.
The poem I chose to analyze this time is Ode to Cheese Fries by José Olivarez. T
what probably lines
my stomach with sunlike grease for weeks after
Already, from the first three lines, I could see an interesting dichotomy in the describtion of the cheese fries. They are "golden" and "sunlike" and "delicious" despite being "artificial" and greasy and unhealthy to eat. The poem continues:
eating the yellow
so yellow it could only be manufactured so what
if it's fake
as much cheese content as Apple Jolly Ranchers
Here the speaker says that he doesn't care whether or not they are bad, or artificial, or not. The cheese fries are still good to him either way. I also want to note the line break that seperates the phrase "so what if it's fake." This happens a couple more times throughout the poem, and it was interesting to me even though I can't quite figure out the reason why Olivarez chose to write it that way. The poem continues:
i come from
a city of foreclosure empty lot city
where we got
dollar store brand action figures so what
my Wolverine didn't
have retractable claws or the right uniform
so my joy
at Pano's my favorite fried everything spot
the cashier's voice
a box of Newports filtered through throat
i didn't know
i would miss this home where the patties
come from freezers
and maybe not ever from cows or even animals
This section gives some important information about the speaker: they grew up in a poorer urban area, so they had to live on cheap, often artificial foods. However, they found joy in that food. They continue:
i live in
a city that brags about it's organic fair trade
quinoa fed beef
Now the speaker tells the audience about their present, comparing it structurally to their past, and how the healthier, new mindset of their new city is very different than the old one that they were reminiscing about. It continues:
of course i miss the '90s pop playing the restaurant
the Backstreet Boys
live in Cal City where the band never breaks up
the song plays
on repeat as the cashier takes my order say it with me
cheese fries please
give me everything artificial including cardboard fries
the bread fresh
out of some Walmart cloning experiment throw in
a cold pop
The speaker now talks about the nostaglia that going back to the city they grew up in, the restaurant that they loved as a kid, made them feel. The artificiality of this nostaglia is very blatant with the descriptions about "cardboard fries" and "Walmart cloning experiments." The poem ends:
i want a joy so fake it stains my insides and
never fades away
Here, I believe that the speaker is acknowledging the artificiality, the unhealthiness, of their childhood, but also that dichotomy from the beginning - that "so what if it's fake" mentality. The speaker seems like they aren't as happy about things in their "better, healthier" life and city than they were in their humbler beginnings. As a child, things as simple as cheese fries gave them joy, so it seems like they are trying to use the fries to try and find that joy once again. I find it very interesting that their joy came from the place that the emotion seemed like it would be harder to find in.
by Brionne Janae
imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribble up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down
control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant
of your childhood. extend your body - do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain -
fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill
from its scales. inhale - try not to remember how desperate
you've been for touch - yes ignore it - that hitch of your heart
you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she'd never return
recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs
escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself
push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember -
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood
we pray instead to survive it.
In school, we are told to never write in 2nd person. That, specifically, in academic writing, the audience should not be address directly. This poem, however, is in 2nd person, which is particularly interesting because the "you" in the poem is the speaker talking to herself. I inferred this from various things throughout the poem: how much the speaker knew about the "you," the tone she used toward the "you," and even the choice of language, like saying "momma" instead of "your momma."
Because it is in 2nd person, the message displayed is much more potent than it would have been if it was in 1st. The most important reason for this is that, in 1st person or 3rd person, the poem would no longer be able to be written like a series of commands. The commands give the poem a punch, and without those imperative sentences, it wouldn't be as impactful.
I also find it interesting that the poem's title, "Child's Pose," is a yoga position. It's the easy one that is often used as a break or resting place between harder poses. This, I think, can be compared to how the speaker only wishes to remember the good times and ignore the bad. The speaker feels that she deserves an escape from the negative things in her life - that she should be able to break away from them, even if it's just for a little while. Like while she's doing yoga. While she's in child's pose.
Child's pose itself almost makes the people doing it look like they are praising something or someone. Knees tucked under them, head facing the ground, arms straigtened out past the head. This is why the last two lines about praying particularly resonate with me; the speaker is praying while she is in child's pose, looking as though she is worshipping something already.
When I read the scene in which the family gets pulled over in Sing, Unburied, Sing, I was on a trip to the beach. The car ride had been fun so far - silly upbeat music and reading but not really - and then I got to the part where Jojo was handcuffed, and I had to put the book down. He was just a thirteen year old boy. Why did the police officer feel the need to handcuff him? To hold him a gunpoint? Was it because he was half-black?
Clint Smith's "Playground Elegy" left me with the same type of questions, though it didn't start off that way.
The first time I slid down a slide my mother
told me to hold my hands toward the sky.
Something about gravity, weight distribution,
& feeling the air ripple through your fingers.
It begins lightheartedly, like my car ride to the beach had been before Sing, Unburied, Sing had unnerved me. The poem seems to be simply about a child on a slide in the park. After all, the word "Playground" is in the title, and at first glance you can see that the poem is shaped like a slide.
I reached the bottom, smile consuming half
of my face, hands still in the air because I didn't
want it to stop. Ever since, this defiance of gravity
has always been synonymous with feeling alive.
Now, the speaker stops his anecdote and gets to the root of why he told it: raising his hands makes him feel alive. He also begins to speak in present tense here.
When I read of the new child, his body strewn across
the street, a casket of bones & concrete, I wonder how
many times he slid down the slide. How many times
he defied gravity to answer a question in class. Did he
This is when the poem turns darker. The speaker talks about a child's death. He compares himself to the child by using elements of the story he had told earlier. It makes the child's death seem more real, more potent, to be able to relate to it, even if it is through simple things that everyone has done, like sliding and hand raising. It makes it universal. This was about the time when I realized that the poem was not just a lighthearted musing about childhood.
raise his hands for all of them? Does my mother regret
this? That she raised a black boy growing up to think that
raised hands made him feel more alive. That raised hands
meant I was alive. That raised hands meant I would live.
This is the end, where it all comes full circle. I didn't understand where the message was heading until I read the final line, but then it all clicked into place. People don't just raise their hands to feel the wind on a slide or to ask questions in class. They also raise their hands when held at gunpoint by police officers to show that they are innocent.
The double meaning of raised hands - specifically, as the poem points out, for black people - made me wonder why the world was this way. Why can some people happily live recklessly while others live carefully and yet in constant fear of losing their life?
As a kid, when I would play pretend, I would want to be a princess, or a vampire, or a Jedi Knight, or all of the above. I never wanted to play games like school or house. It was boring to me. I never wanted to do something that could happen in real life, Instead, I was always looking for something new and exciting and magical. Something out of this world.
I still look for things that are out of this world. I love to read and write (even when I'm bad at it), and I absolutely adore Halloween. I'm also a big theatre kid, but that was kind of inevitable. I literally sang ALL OF THE TIME as a kid, making up the tune and the lyrics as I went. And in musicals, characters seem to do that too.
I'm still very much like little Kendall, even though I don't think it seems like it. I still daydream fancifully and sing every chance I get and think that school is sort of boring. The only real difference is that sometimes I just wish that I could still be little too.
This was sort of short, so here are some cute pictures of me as a kid. (And yes, that is Shepherd as the Red Ranger and Clone. I guess he really liked masks as a kid.) I also loved to iceskate, and I've been doing that again recently!! Not as well as I did went I was a kid, but still.