I was hard pressed to pick a favorite poem from â€śThe Eightiesâ€? section of Kizerâ€™s collected works for here she turns from a sometimes strident declaration of womenâ€™s rights to a quieter understanding of herself and her role in creating and, ultimately, freeing herself, from the bonds that would bind all of us to our roles in life.
Perhaps my favorite poem in the section is â€śFinal Meetingâ€? where she describes her last visit to poet James Wright. It was also hard to ignore the more famous â€śBitch,â€? but I found â€śThrallâ€? equally moving, and perhaps more revealing of the kinds of insights she focuses on in these poems.
The room is sparsely furnished:
A chair, a table, and a father.
He sits in the chair by the window.
There are books on the table.
The time is always just past lunch.
You tiptoe past as he eats his apple
And reads. He looks up, angry.
He has heard your asthmatic breathing.
He will read for years without looking up
Until your childhood is safely over:
Smells, untidiness, and boring questions;
Blood from the first skinned knees
To the first stained thighs;
The foolish tears of adolescent love.
One day he looks up, pleased
At the finished product,
Now he is ready to love you!
So he coaxes you in the voice reserved
For reading Keats. You agree to everything.
Drilled in silence and duty,
You will give him no cause for reproach.
He will boast of you to strangers.
When the afternoon is older
Shadows in a small room
Fall on he bed, the books, the father.
You read aloud to him
â€śLa Belle Dame sans Merci.â€?
You feed him his medicine.
You tell him you love him.
You wait for his eyes to close at last
So you may write this poem.
If you read carefully enough, you probably donâ€™t have to read past the first stanza to understand this poem, though itâ€™s certainly easier to comprehend the second line after youâ€™ve finished the entire poem. Itâ€™s probably not a good sign when you consider your father part of the â€śfurnishings.â€?
Of course, itâ€™s not a good sign that he doesnâ€™t look up â€śUntil your childhood is safely over,â€? though it might be a relief when â€śOne day he looks up, pleased/At the finished product â€¦ ready to love you!â€?
The ambivalence of this hate/love relationship is probably not truly revealed until you read Keatsâ€™ â€śLa Belle Dame sans Merciâ€? and read the lines, â€śLa Belle Dame sans Merci/ Hath thee in thrall!â€? and begin to wonder whom the title refers to. Is it a mutual agony, where â€śPale warriors, death-pale were they all?â€? Can there ever really be a true, loving relationship when children are treated this way?
And, if she doesnâ€™t love her father, why does she have to wait until he closes his eyes before she can write this poem?
Though I may ultimately have been influenced to choose this poem by some recent entries on fellow bloggersâ€™ sites, it strikes me as a powerful reminder of the ambivalence many feel toward parents. It is certainly a relationship all of us must come to terms with to feel whole.