counting the holes...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Amiri Baraka

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands


Amiri Baraka’s poem sticks in my head and will not unread itself. It’s there for good. The work – in such a short space – has as powerful an image of childhood as may be possible. I’m in awe of the way this poem unfolds. Three stark lines anchor the poem – visually and thematically: a desperate run, lost songs, two clasped hands. Remarkable balance.

Distress is ever present – the ground opens, a run for the bus, uncounted stars, holes, an end of song – stretching the human psyche to the edges of real life. It’s a life removed from glamour, intrigue, and epic – a day-to-day setting that W.C. Williams would have applauded. A door opens – such a wonderful trope. And somehow, the child, the poem’s power-center, turns inward – away from father, away from the world, away from misery – in a search for self, and endures.

I do like the fact that Baraka presents the father, although clearly vulnerable, as one who realizes strength in the daughter. He, in poses of reaction to a world he doesn’t understand, is running, counting holes, tiptoeing, while She, prophetic and heroic, is looking – or peeking, an appealing word choice – into the great wilderness.

Undeniably, an impressive piece of writing.


Collin said...

I love this poem. It so perfectly captures a moment of personal despair.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

The piece does capture that moment, Collin. Thanks for reading.

Susan Elbe said...

Sam, I read your blog all the time and though I seldom comment on blogs, this poem moved me in a deep way. I agree with Collin, but I also think it perfectly captures a moment of hope as well.

Thank you for consistently posting such lovely pieces.


Liz said...

A poem that will certainly linger with me - love how it moves from speed and desperation as expressed in running for the bus and searching for stars to the slow pace of tip-toeing to the bedroom to find what was really there all along ...thanks Sam.


Anonymous said...

oh, sam. thanks so. i've not read baraka since grad school (hangs head in the worst kind of shame) when i wrote paper after paper on his poetics. some chick tried to give me guff during a presentation about him... but, that's another story altogether...

his work resonates so and you always seem to have that psychic vibe for maximum impact posting.
thanks again for stirring the lurking sub-conscious: i'm going to dust off the books when i get home.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the good words, Susan. Always pleased to read your comments here.

And Liz, I like your breakdown of the poem's forward motion. Good point. Thanks for reading.

I appreciate the comment, Nicole. A lot of readers do take issue with Baraka - maybe because they don't like him - and never give his works a chance. His writing has a lot of force, and angers many ... maybe because he speaks the contents of his head. But... that's what a poet should do. My psychic vibe says do dust off those books.

greg rappleye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
greg rappleye said...

Yes, it is a good one. Thank you for pointing me toward the poem.

Pris said...

You're right. The poem is one that gets inside and stays there. Thanks for posting this, Sam.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for reading, Greg and Pris.

barbara jane said...

Sorry for this totally belated comment, Sam. What I love about this poem is how tender it is. I don't know why this is surprising to me, except that I too get wrapped up in Baraka's public ferociousness. But it's these turns inward, revealing vulnerabilities, looking at the home and the everyday which actually enable me to understand that public ferociousness. I hope that makes sense.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

That makes perfect sense, Barbara Jane. I'm drawn to this type of writing. Thanks for the comment.