coming to my senses...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Mary Ruefle

Perfect Reader

I spend all day in my office, reading a poem
by Stevens, pretending I wrote it myself,
which is what happens when someone is lonely
and decides to go shopping and meets another customer
and they buy the same thing. But I come to my senses,
and decide when Stevens wrote the poem he was thinking
of me, the way all my old lovers think of me
whenever they lift their kids or carry the trash,
and standing outside the store I think of them:
I throw my arms around a tree, I kiss the pink
and peeling bark, its dead skin, and the papery
feel of its fucked-up beauty arouses me, lends my life
a certain gait, like the stout man walking to work
who sees a peony in his neighbor’s yard and thinks ah,
there is a subject of white interpolation
, and then
the petals fall apart for a long time, as long as it takes
summer to turn to snow, and I go home at the end and watch
the news about the homeless couple who met in the park,
and then the weather, to see how they will feel tomorrow.


From office to store, old lovers to a neighbor’s yard, a tree, the homeless couple in a park, the weather. The landscape in this poem by Mary Ruefle, an assortment of varied parts, is typical of her oeuvre. Lines move in a surprising manner – dreamlike but quite real. Her style is anxious but assessable, and the reader never doubts the poem.

Ruefle’s writing creates an altered world for the perfect reader to inhabit. She focuses her descriptive energies on normal images, but crafts an altered mood in placing them side by side: an office, a store, kids, trash, a tree’s dead, papery skin, peony petals, summer, snow, the news on television. The poem’s final word, tomorrow, causes the reader, like the poem’s speaker, to empathize, to prepare for something different – to connect with the world’s disjointed elements.

The poem moves from thoughts about Wallace Stevens to concern for a homeless couple – searching for a reconnection with the world, with poetry, with former lovers, with plant life. The emotional current in this piece, shifting image to image, gathers force as the reader follows the lines. At the end of a strange day, the speaker is at home, observing the world through television. This illustrates a strong sense of isolation – more a state of the personal than of the detrimental. Somehow – and Ruefle is careful not to give away too much – the speaker has been changed and must now encounter nature, the arts, relationships, thought … in a new way.

Suddenly, the mundane is vital. A petal’s falling does connect with my life.


Suzanne said...

I like Ruefle's poems a lot and hadn't read this one -- thanks for posting it.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read, Suzanne. I've always thought that Ruefle and Simic are related in terms of writing style.

Paula said...

I didn't know this poem either, Sam. Thanks forposting it.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Good to hear from you Paula, and thanks for the read.

gemellen said...

A highlight of my life was working with Ruefle at Vermont College. She's awesome.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I agree with you, G. Thanks for reading.

LKD said...

I'm not in love with the poem. I can't say why. You either love a poem or you don't. There's no easy explanation, no simple reason for why we love what we love or don't love what we don't love.

I do love your explication/analysis of the poem, though. As with all the poems included in your anthology, your close reading and interpretation of the poem brings me closer to it, so even in my lack of love for it, I still gain a greater appreciation for a poem I might otherwise cast aside without giving much thought to it.

I also love, very much, the pink and peeling bark and the papery feel of its fucked up beauty. I like when a poem tosses an unexpected line or phrase into its mix and that pink bark and fucked up beauty are unexpected, at least for this reader.

Too, I love the bit about the peony and the neighbor thinking "ah, there is a subject of white interpolation."

I enjoy reading your anthology selections because, oftener than not, they introduce me to writers I'm not familiar with and poems I've never read.

Thank you for that, Sam.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I appreciate your comment, Laurel. She does have a way with odd imagery. Also, thanks for reading the anthology.

Didi Menendez said...

the poem was excellent but your interpretation was better.


sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for reading Didi, and for your comment. Both are welcome.

KATE EVANS said...

Wow, this is great. Thanks.

Video of REM song was quite an experience, too.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Ruefle has so many wonderful works. Thanks for reading, Kate. And, I couldn't resist the REM.

Anonymous said...

sounds like every day to me. how cumbersome to be trapped in the tops of our bodies, reacted with the outskirts of our bodies, and seldom able to move from the inside of our bodies.