Sunday, September 21, 2014

Is it better not to think about it?

Here is a moderately close reading of a poem by Emily Dickenson for you to enjoy. I love the subject of transformations and this is a poem that deals with that subject.

MY cocoon tightens, colors tease,
I ’m feeling for the air;
A dim capacity for wings
Degrades the dress I wear.

A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps of sky.

So I must baffle at the hint
And cipher at the sign,
And make much blunder, if at last
I take the clew divine.

Is it better not to think about it?

The whole poem is practically over in the first line. Ms compact has had all her laundry out on the line right out of the starting gate. The stifling dress, the “easy sweeps of sky” are all elaborations on what has already happened within the first 5 words. This is why I love Emily.
Eyes are something the butterfly she alludes to grows while it is transforming in the cocoon. The cocoon is a comfort and a protection for the insect during the extremely vulnerable part of its transformation. One would not expect to feel the tightening of the environment until one begins to near the end of the process. There is a ready to be born sense in those first three words. But it isn’t over yet. The “dim capacity for wings” makes it clear that newborns have challenges after they are born. She must “baffle at the hint” and more directly about poetry “cipher at the sign” as she fumbles her way to that old mythological reference about the clew. This old word refers to the ball of thread Theseus used to get out of the labyrinth (you find it also in the first section of my poem Journey) and now the tightness of the cocoon has become the frightening claustrophobia of the maze. She’s jumping around a bit with her allusion to transformation and now we find that we are lost instead.
This is because the cocoon is the human condition perhaps and many people live their lives within the safe comfort found there. Not our poetess. She has gotten past the cocoon of her life by poetry even though it seemed to the world that she lived in a cocoon-like isolation in her home. Her poetry is the thread that she can use to escape the labyrinth that she saw so many people so utterly lost in.
One more issue presses me. If she, whom the world seemed to regard as isolated, was actually finding her way through life’s labyrinth, what about the people who she met who felt they were out in the world she seemed to be avoiding. Perhaps this poem is asking if one is really aware of the shackles with which one is bound? That penetrating higher consciousness of hers seems to be saying that others often think it is better not to think about such things but, of course, they are wrong.

Friday, September 12, 2014


i hear the sax
coming up the
ladder from hell
i hear the sax
swerve and
stretch the scale

i hear the kid
awake and crying

all the kids
with sewn up lips
becoming what

i hear the sirens
cop cars on the move

i hear the
calliope of games
kids play
to forget
to get anger out
to be alone
with others

i see the
sad eyes
and the
lonely sax

i feel the guilt
that wants
to be punished
and courage
to face
bitter truth

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The American Child

The American child has never been able to be more powerful. Why are they struggling so? Why is this puzzle unable to come together and assume the birthright for which it was born? Who is to blame?
When we look for blame we are further fragmenting and thus becoming weaker. The answer is that we must accept our differences. There is no need to integrate all these disparate parts; just we must not continue to try to carve ourselves into the pieces that are only part of who we are!
In the spirit of poetry on the eve of the advent of Modern & Contemporary American Poetry 2014, I will be Whitman and Emily Dickens for a moment. We are many like the leaves of grass and we are fiercely individual in our aloneness. There is great power in this!
What we must do is to be accepting of our differences and not say I am this or I am that. Truly we are fragmented beings in a fragmentary world. The only path back to our own natural power is to accept our own incompatibilities as normal and, in turn, find the ability to accept others who are just as different to us as we are to ourselves.
The old “divide and conquer” has got us in its gnarled grip. The American Child has got to accept its many variations and find its true power. It is the power of poetry. It is the power of acceptance.

Russell H. Ragsdale,
Author of Book of Aliases, Dragon Scales and Fireflies,
Almaty,Kazakhstan/Paris, France/Tucson, Arizona
September 5, 2014