19.12.06

didn't happen overnight...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Olena Kalytiak Davis

The Scaffolding Inside You

Your thoughts have hung themselves from nails
like workshirts.

The sky has stopped
offering you reasons to live and your heart is a rock
you threw through each window
of what’s deserted you, so you turn
to the burnt out building inside you: the scaffolding
overhead, the fallen beams,
the unsound framework;

according to the blue that’s printed on the inside of your arms
you have no plans, no plans
uncovered, or uncovering: the offing is emptying,

the horizon empty

now that your sanity is
a tarp or a bedsheet
in the rough hands of the wind,

now that everything is hooded
in drop cloth.

It didn’t happen
overnight. Or maybe it did:

your heart, the rock;
your soul, the Gothic barn.

You’ve even started envying the flowers their stems.

Will the Norther let up?

Will the moon ever again be so full of itself
that that ragged ban will fill with light, through its tin-covered roof?

You should bury more than the dead.
You should try harder.
You should give up.

*

Olena Davis is a poet of extraordinary power. Her mastery of tone is exceptional. I read her as a poet of the weather – in the tradition of Wallace Stevens … the weather of the human condition – a poet of mood and emotion.

Revealing the deep vein of poetic gifts, “The Scaffolding Inside You” begins with isolation, with thoughts that hang “from nails / like workshirts.” Davis writes:

The sky has stopped
offering you reasons to live and your heart is a rock
you threw through each window
of what’s deserted you

These lines display a full sense of loss and the solitary life in so few words. Later, she writes, “the offing is emptying, // the horizon empty,” exposing the reader to a scene that shrinks and shifts. Davis’ style of writing is so personal that it can’t be taught or analyzed as to the how and why of her lines. One is in awe, as if standing before a painting so strong that words elude explanation.

A metaphor for Davis, the rock/heart, puts me in mind of the great Bessie Smith’s voice, singing “St. Louis Blues”: “That man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea.” Isolation and silence. The heart is a rock, Davis writes, and the soul, a barn – built, no doubt, to store the dark products – and here read Gothic – of that heart.

The barn is a shadow of the poem’s overall structure – the scaffolding. The lines themselves directly connect to the framing of “that ragged barn.” Near the beginning of the poem, Davis writes:
so you turn
to the burnt out building inside you: the scaffolding
overhead, the fallen beams,
the unsound framework

The speaker directs the destructive image of the “burnt out building” to a universal “you,” illustrating the razing within the human spirit, the heart – by time, by experience, by loss. Fallen beams, showing life’s vulnerability, recall Emily Dickinson’s broken planks of reason in “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (#280). Davis then moves the lines across an astonishing moment, my favorite in the poem: “envying the flowers their stems.” It’s a notion both powerful and private that refuses speech.

Questions of the human condition follow … Will the storm end? Will the moon be filled with itself and give light? No easy answers. “You should bury more than the dead,” the speaker urges. Davis finishes the poem with a remarkable juxtaposed axiom: try harder, give up. In the Zen tradition, no cup may be filled until it’s first emptied.

5 comments:

Hum & Aepha said...

she constantly surprises & amazes me. thank you for this.

Dennis said...

". . . as if standing before a painting so strong that words elude explanation."

Yet you do so eloquently! Sam, it's always such a treat every time you share your genius with us. Your words are like salt on food. Everyting you touch is better.

Hannah said...

it's amazing.
merci.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Davis does amaze. Thanks hum & aepha, Dennis, & Hannah. I apprecaite your read and your comments.

SarahJane said...

and her soul out of nothing is one of my very favorite poetry books. thanks for your ideas on the poem.
best