Monday, November 21, 2011
Swan Song XVIII--a poem by W. S. Merwin
Okay, to me, it's crystal clear that the speaker is an adult and probably male--but that's a guess based on the gender of the poet and the fact that, for better or worse, I am--and that I'm probably somehow afflicted with sufficient guilt to bring me into what I think is the heart of things here--parental neglect.
he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father
Nice. What we've got here--unless I'm wrong--is two men talking, friends, both of whom find themselves in a similar situation vis-a-vis their parents--well, fathers, to be specific. Both of them feel more than a little guilty, although only one of them--not the narrator--is at least being open about it.
he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me
oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time
That "cold hand," I figure ought to give my students pause. It's the clear signal that we're talking about adult children visiting elderly parents.
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me
What's more, the guilt is rising exponentially in the narrator's mind while his equally guilty friend is letting loose about what a jerk he was. His old man wanted him around, but he got caught looking at his watch, prompting his father to beg. I could cry. Been there, done that.
oh yes I say
The guilt is oozing now, from me too, just with that one line.
but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
just because I'm here
That's not a line of poetry, it's a bayonet. "Just because I'm here" is the cry of an old man whose immensely lonely. Two men talking here about their mutual sin--not caring for aging parents. Guilt is rising like the temperature in that old folks home. It's hotter than humanly possible, and it's rising in me, too, because I'm in the poem myself.