Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Malapropism: Good Poets Suffer, the Greats Lie

Today on poems.com the featured poems, "The Good Son" and "Ocean," were from the late Jason Shinder. His poetry is frank, and slightly reminiscent of Modernist imagism though slightly less patchwork. He died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. From the outside, he seemed to ignore the magnitude of his illness, choosing to spend his summer on a writing retreat in Greece rather than starting chemotherapy. After his death, his friends uncovered that he dealt with his illness through his work using it to work out his denial and other feelings. He was quoted saying, "Cancer is a tremendous opportunity to press your face up against the glass of your mortality."
"The Good Son" is my favorite of the two because the feelings expressed are much more frank than what you would expect from the speaker. By this I mean that the speaker's voice and tone denotes someone who is normally diffident, especially regarding their true feelings. The poem serves as a confessional for him, something he is not supposed to say -- that his own pain is not secondary but above that of another's.

For more on Shinder's life and poetry check out poets.org and this New York Times article, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/magazine/28lives-t.html.

The Good Son
If God had come to me and said,
if you are willing to forget your self

you will find the cure for heart attacks and compose
the greatest symphonies,

I wouldn't have been sure of my answer.
Because there wouldn't have been enough

attention to my suffering. And that's unforgivable.
But I keep on forgiving myself

with God's love. And it's strange I should say this
because my mother died of a heart attack

after months in a hospital room full of a silence
that lodged itself like a stone in her throat.

And she thought I was wonderful
and would do anything for her.


Goodbye again. Say there is a little song in my head

and because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
about the future. Now the song runs all the way down

to the beach where I sit as if the sky

were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing. Not even me.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

No mouth. Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
the last moments may be with someone.

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