While Vigils are kept at Night

April 20, 2011

If you can, play them the music first thing
this morning. Go to them, stay there, make them
a breakfast that no one will want to eat.
A piece of toast, Ma.
You have to put something in your stomach, Ma.
Just some toast.
That is the real repetition—
where simple words become new metaphor.
You have to stomach this too, Ma.

Night comes. We watch. I wonder,
I hear myself say, I wonder
before the movies made it real
could we imagine in slow motion—
you know, the way it looks—?
I said this like it was a theoretical question.
We watch as the words track across the sky.
Like I was asking a theoretical question
about movies and the mind.
Like no one knows what I’m really talking about.

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3 Responses to “While Vigils are kept at Night”

  1. John Stevens Says:

    That’s interesting Jim. I’ve been re-reading looking out for the different voices, which deepens the poem.
    I hadn’t heard that about Ireland – I agree, it’s a good thought to have.
    I hope things go well for your mother. My own father died recently after a tricky illness. Somebody once said “old age is not for cissies” … my mother-in-law used to quote that with a rueful laugh but I don’t know the source.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    Oh, I can live with your dropping it into your own preoccupations. Indeed, sir, indeed.
    It’s interesting that you mention David Hockney’s swimming pool pictures; I often think of them when I go swimming—at least on sunny days. He is one of my favorite artists. And painting—making pictures—must be part of the equation here: what was the motive to stop time in the first place, to freeze it, to capture it—or at least capture its manifestations, its creatures—? We wouldn’t, and couldn’t, live in such a world. Maybe the attempt was to slow things down, maybe the painters in Lascaux just didn’t have the wear withal to do the slow mo, maybe it’s why we value ‘movement’ in our artwork. The attempt is to pull back on the horses, not stop them. A mighty wrestling match between Parmenides and Heraclitus ensues. And it takes a Plato to say, ‘It’s just a picture.’—calming everyone down. Maybe the brain/mind is the source of slow motion; it just took us a long time to figure out how to do it.
    What is going on with that toast the narrator wants to shove down Ma’s throat? A couple of ideas. Years ago (maybe 30) a friend told me that it is a common practice in Ireland to bring people bad news in the morning, stay with them throughout the day, comfort them, prepare meals. I don’t know is this is an Irish tradition or not—and it doesn’t really matter—the idea is a good one—and has been with me for many years. Contrast this with the ‘vigil’.
    Two: the changing narrative perspectives. The voice that speaks the first two sentences is not the same as the voice that addresses his ‘Ma’, and the speaker of the second stanza is not the same speaker as the second one—or at least they have different audiences—which pretty much may amount to the same thing. The first speaker is addressing the second speaker. The second speaker is addressing ‘Ma’. The third speaker is addressing the readers of the poem. All offer a breakfast that nobody wants to eat.
    Three: my mother is in the last stages of her life. It’s the devil just getting her to eat a decent meal.
    So,John, who is this vigil for? Truth is,I hardly dare to speculate. At least on sunny days.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    Just possibly your final line is true! I can see that you are still musing on repetition and slow poetry.

    I like your question about whether we could imagine slow motion before the movies – it’s similar to speculation we children used to make in the ’50s: whether people dreamed in black and white. And David Hockney’s paintings of light rippling on water must surely owe everything to photography. So modern media have certainly influenced our perception.

    But what’s going on with Ma’s toast? It seems to represent a characteristic incident of the poet’s childhood, so maybe it stands in for the mother herself. There’s a sadness in the air, and it leaves me wondering about that vigil – who it is for and what is being waited, and whether it feels like slow motion. Vigils can be about dying, or at least about sickness.

    Since the poem is opaque, I don’t expect to discover what you have put into it for yourself, and I’m dropping into it some preoccupations personal to me. You’ll have to live with that, I’m afraid!


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