Pushcart XLIII: Mary Jo Bang, “Like Someone Asleep in a Cinema” (poem) from Vallum #14:2

Like someone asleep in a cinema who wakes to lean over into your space
and mock your open-eyed wonder. That’s how it was then, the eye
movements of others tracking my every reaction on the stage that ends
by design sans everything. When everything is over the shape of the moon
will still feign a bathtub boat in the underworld, at rest on its side. I’ll be
the flower I’ve always been, held by a woman wearing a hat, half-veil,
half-opened lips, the whites of her eyes matching the moon as the sun
reflects off its surface.

Complete poem available online at Vallum

We have now reached the “I have no idea” portion of our program, where I founder and grasp at straws to come up with something.

My first thought was, the speaker is a stripper, turning the male gaze back on itself. This was primarily based on the stage setting, the sans everything ending, references later to soap and cleanliness. But I’m not really convinced by that. Maybe it’s more of a nested metaphor for the reality of a life, which indeed necessarily ends sans everything. Then we’d have more of a retrospective view, of being scolded for one’s utterings, of everything being over, of time the “hissing is”. That doesn’t feel satisfying either. But I’m afraid I don’t have anything else that works better.

The first lines bring to mind the opening essay of this volume, with its plea to abandon ironic distance for genuine feeling, as again we see someone mocked for “wide-eyed wonder”.

Language meaning mutates in parts of the poem, particularly the word “lie” in the second half.

I so wanted to be stone but never achieved it. Wanted to lie to get
what I wanted, without wondering, What will happen if I lie?
…The clock no longer flips one to two,
time is a hissing is. Lying is now in fashion. Lie down with me, people say,
when they hold someone back from the edge of that insane remembering.

I wonder which lying the speaker sees as in fashion. I know what kind of lying is, in fact, in fashion now, but the poem may have other ideas.

2 responses to “Pushcart XLIII: Mary Jo Bang, “Like Someone Asleep in a Cinema” (poem) from Vallum #14:2

  1. Hi Karen. Good to hear your comments and once again you give me hope. I love “We have now reached the “I have no idea” portion of our program, where I founder and grasp at straws to come up with something.” I have read the poem, wondered about it briefly, and as per usual with this kind of thing, have decided that i just don’t care about what the poet is doing, does not appeal to me and that is that. But I often wonder how selections for the anthology get made. Someone out there has understandings or criteria that i don’t. Cheers! I will try to read a few more of yours in the next few days and engage in some pretend conversation, haha.

    • Hi, Andrew! If there’s one thing I learned in Modpo, it’s that poems can carry meaning in many ways. I just don’t know enough of them, or how to figure them out. I did like the parts of this one – like the semantic mutation – though i couldn’t get them to add up to anything. Maybe that’s my problem – instead of trying to add them together, I should just view them as a network “catching” a broad range of meaning.

      I’m always kind of proud of myself when I find something in a poem, and I try not to beat myself up when I don’t. I just keep looking. It was my hope I would find someone who could help, but the people who know seem to have other things to do.

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