Sudden Spoon

Collaborative Close Readings

I am she : I am he : The wreck is / is not / thing itself

diving final

The two things that intrigue me most about this poem: The shifting I, and the nature of the wreck.   Somehow they intertwine in my mind, one being necessary to the other.

Things in our lives that get wrecked:  Cars, trains, careers, homes, marriages, relationships.  Each disaster is new, unmapped. Unknown territory.

We may think we have a plan, an earthquake kit, an insurance folder in the glove compartment, a little extra put by in the bank.  But in a real disaster, our hands shake and we can’t find the insurance card; we are washed up jobless on the shore without a plan; the earthquake kit is buried in the rubble and we can’t find our glasses.  There is no map.

Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” explores unknown territory.  “We know,” the speaker tells us, of the ladder, “what it is for.”  Yet she describes the  panic as the water closes over her and she learns to breathe differently.

She is alone, our speaker. She tells us repeatedly.  There is no one to help her into her equipment, “and there is no one / to tell me when the ocean / will begin.”   She learns alone to move in the ocean, “to turn my body without force.”

But once in the depths, she is among many, the “tentative haunters.”  I imagine schools of fish brushing by her, grey and silver, and the soft fingers of anemones.

Here the I of the poem begins to shift to we.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

She has not only entered the ocean, descended to the wreck, into the realms of myth, but has become plural, both she and he, mermaid and merman, and not only they, but also the drowned face staring up at the sun, carrying the weight of a ruined a precious cargo…becoming not only the explorer, but the wreck itself,

A side note:  I find it interesting that though the cargo (now in half-rotten chests)  is precious, it is not the incorruptible metal, gold.   Copper corrodes, silver tarnishes, and vermeil is gold plated over sterling silver:  the image of incorruptibility, laid over a base of more perishable metal.

Back to the wreck:  The speaker tells us she wants to see the thing itself.

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth

This reminds me of William Carlos William’s Imagist insistence on the thing itself, the notion that the goal of the poet is to produce a clear and exact image, and that the meaning of the poem lies in that image, not in metaphor or poetic devices. Yet Rich is, without question using metaphor, speaking metaphorically, exploring metaphorically, connecting the diver, the mermaid, the merman, the ribs of the wreck, the richness that prevails.  The poem speaks of using words as maps, using words to explore.   There is metapoetry here, clearly, and metalanguage.

But I think the metaphor goes deeper than the poem being a poem about poetry. I think the wreck is the wreck of relationship, being explored delicately, with the speaker’s awareness that her self is more than oneself, that she takes in both mermaid and merman, both diver and drowned ship. In the deepest human relationships, whether marriage or lovers or parents and children, we become more than ourselves.  We speak, with authority, of ourselves as we.

(Flashes of memory — my grandmother, draping a shawl over me because she felt chilly.  My husband and I waking up with a scream from almost identical nightmares.  My sister, telling me how she felt so connected to her baby that changing and washing him felt like taking care of her own body.  Lying awake at night listening to myself and my newborn and my husband all breathing together — each with a different rhythm, but all three inhaling together once every minute or two.)

I.  You.  We.  We find every wreck a new disaster, uncharted.  Sometimes we spend the rest of our lives diving into them again and again, delicately inserting a knife-blade into the hasps of the treasure chests, bringing up bones and pearls, amphorae and manuscripts.

Sources:  Wikimedia provided the scrap of Greek manuscript that is incorporated into my artwork.  It is a fragment from a 3rd century copy of the Labors of Hercules.  If you look closely, there are little illustrations of Hercules between the lines. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:P._Oxy._XXII_2331.jpg

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About Elizabeth Evans

I am a poet living in Washington state.

5 comments on “I am she : I am he : The wreck is / is not / thing itself

  1. Susan Scheid
    December 11, 2012

    Elizabeth: This is beautifully done. In my small effort, I skimmed the surface, and only slightly, while you have dived well into the wreck and brought up treasure.

    This statement I particularly appreciated, in part because (to me) it turned the notion of metapoetry on its head: “There is metapoetry here, clearly, and metalanguage. But I think the metaphor goes deeper than the poem being a poem about poetry. I think the wreck is the wreck of relationship.” While I’m always hesitant to read biographical details into a poem, this one seems not to allow for escape from thought of Rich’s wholly personal human wreck: she and her husband separated in 1970, and he committed suicide not long thereafter.

    I’m also fascinated by your reference to WCW: “This reminds me of William Carlos William’s Imagist insistence on the thing itself, the notion that the goal of the poet is to produce a clear and exact image, and that the meaning of the poem lies in that image, not in metaphor or poetic devices.” While I seized on the same phrase “the thing itself,” I thought immediately of Stevens, where, to the extent my dim understanding can take me, the “res,” the “thing,” is not imagist, but metapoetic–the poem itself.

    There is much to mine here, and I hope others will weigh in. My dim glimmer into the wreck leads me back to “The words are purposes./The words are maps.” Are the words we have “the thing itself,” the way we have to order the disorder of our world?

    • Elizabeth Evans
      December 11, 2012

      Was it Stevens who had a major essay using term “thingitself?” I remember reading it (as extracurricular reading) in a big anthology in college. I wish I remembered the title. It was a big thick book with a blue cover, and it had both poetry and essays on modern poetry. I remember reading long excerpts of Gertrude Stein from it while I was on a week-long bus tour of the upper Midwest with my grandmother and a bus load of senior citizens. Mile after mile after mile of corn and “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

      • Susan Scheid
        December 12, 2012

        Elizabeth: I don’t know if it, but sure would like to. I come from the Midwest, BTW, so I know exactly what you mean about that mile after mile after mile. I can only imagine . . . you must have read that anthology cover to cover to cover.

  2. dennisaguinaldo
    December 13, 2012

    That truly is strange, our attraction to wrecks and ruins. That we would risk the structures we have so carefully nurtured in order to visit grand, but submerged and broken things. I liked the reading, Elizabeth (the parenthetical, above all).

  3. Pingback: Becoming Educational W15: The heart of the maze: critical analysis – for research? | Becoming An Educationalist

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This entry was posted on December 10, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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