Pushcart XL: Keetje Kuipers, “Migration Instinct” (poem) from Codex Journal, Spring 2014

Today the wife of the last man who made me lonely
is having a baby. Oh, October: we all want
to get up and leave, crawl out of our flesh sacks and fly
like mad.

~~Complete poem available online at Codex Journal

For quite a while, this one was a real head-scratcher. What does migration have to do with a long-ago love, with what used to be, other than the obvious: we move on. And thankfully so, or we’d all be acting out like jilted teenagers all over the place. But the poem, what is the poem doing, and how is it doing it? I see a turn: is it a sonnet? I don’t have the confidence to declare a 17-line poem to be a sonnet; can I do that?

I’m not sure why it suddenly dawned on me, but it did: Stop tying it to a chair with rope, as Billy Collins puts it – this is hilarious! Stop getting psychological (no one makes you lonely, we do that to ourselves by where we focus) and for pete’s sake, stop counting syllables (yes, there is an accumulation effect in the phrases of the first sentence, a kind of expand-and-contract in the first two lines, that makes it read so nicely, but so what) and look at what’s going on: all this drama over an old boyfriend becoming a father? A day of green eyeshadow – really, green? – and running stop signs? And then back to washing diapers and everything’s ok?

Sonnet, maybe; the turn in the last four lines is unmistakeable. But parody, definitely. And possibly, just possibly, elegy: a couple of lines of mourning, complete with interjection, then some praise for what she was back in the green eyeshadow days, before the forward looking conclusion of baby care. Which, frankly, is my idea of hell, but I understand some people like it.

Then I see there’s a dedication: To Becky. Is Becky the daughter? Will she someday read this poem, and think, wow, Mom was a hellraiser? Or is Becky someone else, a friend who hasn’t yet migrated? Come to think of it, I still don’t quite see the connection with migration, other than the obvious already stated. I’m not invested enough in the poem to care. Bad sign. But sometimes, they go by me. Maybe I’m just too removed from days of passion’s rage, and too uninterested in motherhood, to find a way in.

Am I being disrespectful? Insightful? Stupid? All at once? Probably. But I giggled through Madame Bovary, and this strikes me as tapping into the same hyperdramatics.

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