Monday, May 5, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month Competition


Intrinsic Differences, by Laura Tattoo

You are adamant, you want answers!
You rally reason from wreck, put out inchy
feelers, scrutinize pharmacologic text,
then proffer cures like colored seeds to birds.

I'm intransigent; I swear I've tried it, all of it!
I've spent thousands on gels, mincemeats and frills
and still I'm sexless; I peck among the rhetoric,
swallow limpid jewels, rise a shadow of myself.

Spilling over this thirsty landscape, we're all
dry as dinosaurs and old as hills;
we've got loser libidos and sinewy sloughs,
we've got what we paid for and we're thirsty still.

You are a maestro of bird song with all that hope,
singer of Ode to Joy in the cafe dawn, you thrill:
I'm torn down in the book of Psalms, I sin,
for I can't wait for a god to call me home

And end this senseless race for cure,
another muck-muck run of luck
that seeps into deep caverns of my skin,
absorbed in the big pores of my nihilism.

This poem dramatically contrasts, with an attitude, the salutary and optimistic outlook of an unnamed individual with that of the narrator’s bitter, if not hopeless sense of futility, apparently due to an incurable ailment. Near the middle of the poem, a single stanza serves to universalize (almost parenthetically) this perceived futility in human suffering. The poem then quickly reverts back to its sardonic rant against a person who is characterized as one with hope and joy, and possessing some measure of faith. This contrasting imagery forms the basis for a poem illustrating the depth of suffering, in part, by its contrast to its opposite.

Composed of five fairly uniform quatrains, the poem has an unusual rhyming structure with an emphasis on a repeating end-rhyme: 'frills', 'hills', 'still', 'thrill', in addition to the quirky paired rhyme, 'muck-muck run of luck'. As well, an additional end-rhyme occurs (sin/skin) separated by three unrhymed lines. These uneven rhythms provide an order and otherwise structured tone to a poem which, without them, might have become heavy with its hard tone. Interestingly, the poem ends on a fascinating near rhyme couplet of skin/nihilism.

These rhymes add a lyrical quality to a fairly heavy-handed and deliberate poem. The poem is also lifted out of an otherwise negative tone by some excellent alliteration: ‘rally reason from wreck,’ ‘dry as dinosaurs,’ ‘loser libidos,’ and ‘sinewy sloughs.’

The poem opens declaratively, addressing a person the speaker obviously knows well, in an accusatory tone, “You are adamant, you want answers!” This sets the tone for the poem and ushers in the notion of certainty and the speaker’s frustration with an individual who may not understand or have a basis for empathy in their experience. This person who rallies ‘reason from wreck,’ is obviously aware of the speaker’s problems, which appear to be rooted in some serious physical impairment or disease (reference to 'pharmacologic text', 'proffer cures'). However, the speaker has heard all of this and declares herself intransigent, unable to change (or be changed). It is clear, early on in the poem, that there is a history of suffering and striving, of failing to get better in the face of injurious therapeutic regimes (‘I've spent thousands on gels, mincemeats and frills,; ‘I’m still sexless,’ and, ‘swallow limpid jewels, rise a shadow of myself’).

The third stanza brings the reader into the fray. No more is this is solely an argument between the speaker and another party. “We're all dry as dinosaurs and old as hills/ We've got loser libidos and sinewy sloughs/ We've got what we paid for and we're thirsty still.” This appears to be a reference to possible side-effects of some drugs (i.e., drastically affecting libido). In addition, in declaring we get what we pay for and are still thirsty, the speaker implies there is little comfort in costly protocols whose side effects are worse than the curative benefits.

The fourth and fifth stanzas contrast the speaker's despair with the apparent opposite nature of the subject addressed, whose hope sings like a bird, a ‘singer of Ode to Joy,’ in a cafĂ©: a reference that lets the reader know there is a history here, and brings attention to perhaps a specific encounter or discussion that may have formed a basis for the inspiration of the poem. Further, the biblical reference to the Psalms serves to illustrate the depth of the speaker’s suffering (‘I'm torn down in the book of Psalms, I sin') and the the phraseology continues the tone of sarcasm here, pointing out a perceived hypocrisy in a person who is a “maestro of bird song.”

The poem ends by drawing the reader back to the central issue at hand: the speaker’s hopelessness in the face of a disease or condition that apparently has no cure (‘end this senseless race for cure’). Although the speaker makes a reference here to a ‘run of bad luck,’ it is clear that there is a subtext here which remains unresolved. In the face of such devastating effects of physical (and no doubt emotional) exhaustion, the speaker finally withdraws away from a tirade and looks inward, avowing a kind of bleak resignation, if not complicity with her own suffering, which becomes ‘absorbed in the big pores of my nihilism.”

This poem dramatizes the speaker’s highly personal, candid and visceral response to an apparently incurable physical ailment showing profound frustration with an unnamed individual who obviously possesses quite divergent views on the subject. Intimate and ‘intrinsic differences’ in ways of thinking (and feeling) between the speaker and another individual are used to juxtapose the universal struggle against the physical realm, against forces which are resistant to change (i.e. for the better). Though sardonic and intentionally dark, the poem amplifies the speaker’s travail by vividly comparing her own plight with the seemingly joyous (though perhaps callous) temperament of an unnamed individual. It is a poem of despair in which the speaker unabashedly amplifies a kind of intractable anguish (and angst) and finally accepts blame, after a fashion, in the personal recognition of nihilistic hopelessness. While this may be a poem easily panned by those without a context for years of suffering, it will, conversely, find resonance for many who find identification in their experience for the bleak harsh realities of human suffering.

Laura Tattoo was inspired, early on, to write poetry by the likes of Dr. Seuss, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Shakespeare, but feels she discovered it much more by simply living it. In her twenties she studied English and French at Portland State University where she won the Nina Mae Kellogg award for best senior student in English. Between then and now, she has written several volumes of poetry in both English and French, and at 51 is seeking to publish and share her work. Originally from New York and Massachusetts, Laura now divides her time between her home in Astoria, Oregon, and long sojourns in Paris, France.