Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reading Boland's "Night Feed" (1982) Part 2

The next six poems, as promised by the book’s title, are about caring for the poet’s baby daughter. Their language is simple, almost prosaic, their imagery temporal and domestic, their movement tentative, their tone hushed. Their short lines are determined by the phrase more often than not. Except for “Endings,” the last poem of the group, they are written in regular stanzas, each of seven, four, five or three lines. Each stanza usually has a pair of end-rhymes in no predetermined place, but the last line of each stanza often rhymes with a foregoing line.

“Night Feed” takes place at dawn. That time is the daughter’s season, “The moment daisies open,” and “the hour mercurial rainwater/ Makes a mirror for sparrows.” The poet-mother tiptoes into the nursery to feed the baby, and when the feed is over, the daughter opens her eyes “Birth-colored and offended.” Now dawn becomes the time of endings (“Worms turn./ Stars go in”), and poet and daughter “begin/ The long fall from grace.”

In “Before Spring,” the transfer of seedlings into pots reminds the poet how quickly the pride “in giving life” passes, how quickly the baby will grow independent of her.

“Energies” is the strongest poem of this group, I think. Her life spent in chores, the poet consoles herself that her daughter, like her daisies, is storing up energy for her own life.

In the dusk they have made hay:
in a banked radiance,
in an acreage of brightness
they are misering the day
while mine delays away.

Like “Night Feed” and “Energies,” “Hymn” begins by stating the time of day: “Four a.m./ December.” The round of routine has to be distinguished in some way, broken up in some way. The poet rejects the star in the sky for the star of “a nursery lamp/ in a suburb window.” The act of devotion is not there and faraway, but here and now: “I know it all by heart:// these candles/ and the altar/ and psaltery of dawn.” The poem should end there, instead of adding a lame last stanza about the world being made flesh in the dark.

In “Partings,” the poet celebrates her union with her child during the night. Daybreak here spells separation:

and light finds us
with the other loves
dawn sunders
to define.

The poet declares in “Endings” she will never fill a cot with a child again. She thinks of the jasmine and the apple trees, and “what it is the branches end in:”

The leaf.
The reach.
The blossom.
The abandon.


Reading “Energies”

Chris knew something about taking care of babies.
His lover Don was thirty years younger than him.
In his diary Chris wrote, I know he can leave me
but I can’t leave him until he has no need of me.

Don knew something about taking care of babies,
something worse, watching your lover age and die.
In his drawings of his dying lover, his hands said,
I know he can’t leave me until I have no need of him.

But as he drew picture after picture, to show his need
for the dying man to sit up, picture after lively picture
showed the sudden line mastering the stunned mouth
until the final one spoke, You have no need of me.


Anonymous said...

"Energies" is so real and touching! In the hospital, we see such dynamics between partners, and children and parents, and generally, in any caregiving relationship.

A resolution in the form of permission (to die) is sometimes required before the ill could let go and pass on.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, ram, for your interesting hospital observations.