Tuesday, April 9, 2013

the you and the I

I think what people want
is purity like

that contains the blood
and prevents its spilling

oceans that slap
the land’s edges back into shape

minds that understand
the difference between stranger
and friend

the comfort of separateness

the taste of this apple
that bears the provenance of the refrigerator

the yellow pepper
that crossed surreptitiously
into this bite

which should rightfully be
only rain, limb, bird

unlike how you have bled
into me who might otherwise 
be understood


  1. your poem is carefully balanced between humour and depth. i laugh at the provenance of refrigerator but know deeply in myself both the dirty seed and the longing that is my engine to be clean.

    how brilliantly divided by that one line about separation. but this poem is not all cleverness (while it is that, too) but rather springs from the core of you, ruth.


    1. I did not go for cleverness, humor or brilliance, but if you find it, I thank you and smile back. (I guess that provenance is rather funny.)

      It is just so hard, so hard for me to articulate the great divide I feel ... in myself, what I witness in others, and the desire I have to bridge it.

  2. I try to decipher what drives us, what drives me. Mostly, for me, it is about relationship. Always relationship. Difficulties arise when I see myself as other than someone else, and then when I feel incomplete without them.

    The differences between us in society, these strange and terrible battles. The denial that we are all the same, really, even though our opinions vary so widely.

    I think what I want is to understand — myself, others, how we differ. How to stand alone and be all right with ambiguity.

    I realize this is hard to read and comprehend what I'm getting at.

    (This was written before Erin's, just in.)

  3. Yes, this fine, tautly written and quite dense poem explores both separateness and relationship, doesn’t it?

    “Purity” is equated with a symbiosis of separate identity and natural interaction between separate identities (skin/blood, ocean/land, stranger/friend).

    The poem pivots on “separateness”, though, in its central, single line – separateness is necessary, even comforting; perhaps suggesting the individual is inevitably the first thing (we are born alone, die alone) and relationship comes after.

    And then we are given examples of what purity is not: it is not found in unnatural places, unnatural tastes, unnatural juxtapositions, unnatural minglings – as opposed to the “backward miracles” of “rain, limb, bird”: natural objects listed here in their pristine, unornamented, separate simplicity. Without metaphor, myth, association, pluralism, they are purely and naturally themselves.

    In the last, packed, complex verse we are confronted with the human relationship, “the you and the I”. We bleed into each other as human beings, don’t we? It’s not always an orderly and functional relation like the skin containing the blood (sometimes the skin gets punctured) or the ocean containing the land (sometimes it floods the land).

    Would we be “understood” if the fusion – perhaps a messy fusion – of the you and the I had not happened, or merely understood in a different way? The “otherwise”, I presume, is purposefully ambiguous, and allows for the two subtly different interpretations.

    1. Robert, I am touched and humbled by your close attention to this small poem. In fact I so appreciate the exploring and discovery that I don't know what else to say. It's a privilege to be so closely read by a person with as much of his own poetry and heart understanding as you have. (Erin too.)

  4. I think that, to some extent, we all see ourselves as being other, and it is at best disconcerting. At worst... So the final stanza is quite sad. Can we only be understood if we are "pure" , like "rain, limb, bird"? Or does the crossing of the yellow pepper into the apple (oh, Eve) via the provenance of the refrigerator (!!) spark a new and not unpleasant taste?
    Separateness is a comfort.
    See? Only questions brought by this. I like it when you bring questions.
    Thank you.

    1. It is good [for me] that you like these questions. I don't know why my poetic voice goes to questions so much (see, another question!).

      Yes, at the time of writing, that last stanza was sad. Within me there is a constant tension, it seems, between finding myself, authentically, and being buffeted by feelings because of what someone else does. How do we welcome all experience — the losses, gains, living, dying, even the pain — and understand that this too is making us?

      Somewhat related, I read this Machado this morning:

      I go dreaming down roadways
      of evening. Emerald pine-trees
      golden hillsides
      dusty oak-leaves!…
      Where does this road go?
      I go travelling, singing,
      into the road’s far distance…
      – evening falls slow –
      ‘I bore in my heart
      the thorn of passion:
      Drew it out one day
      And my heart is numb.’

      And suddenly all the land
      was silent, mute and sombre,
      meditating. Sound of the wind
      in the riverside poplars.

      Evening’s more shadowy
      and the turning road
      that faintly whitens
      blurs, in vanishing.

      Lament, my song turns to:
      ‘Gold thorn, so sharp
      Could I but feel you
      lodged in my heart.’

  5. Reading this after our Skype, Ruth, makes this tension more valuable than had I read it before. Thank you for your vulnerability.

    1. And thank you, dear sister, for your intimate support.

  6. I love this poem. Each stanza is its own little poem, but then they all fit together to create this even greater whole. Fantastic.


All responses are welcome.