Monday, June 2, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month for May


Flying, by Susan Budig
Tu ne seras pas oublié.

You were not ready when you flew from earth,
snatched, like a bird in a storm.

Now I sit at your desk writing the last words in your journal.
I pour out your shampoo, sudsing my hair twice a day
until there is nothing left.
I paint my nails mismatched colors while emptying your chic bottles
of Le Rouge Foncé and Rose Scintillant.

Birds feast on your half-eaten bag of Cheetos that I shake,
salting the wind.
I burn your cinnamon candle down to a nub,
leave on your night-light until the bulb burns out,
open to your bookmark, finishing Baudelaire’s final verses.

Then I lay my head on your pillow,
inhaling your lilac memory,
pull up the yellow cotton sheet,
and dream your last dream.

My aching heart hears you whisper
Allez à Paris.

When I land at Charles de Gaulle
every face I see is yours—
the blue-gray eyes
the chestnut hair
fair face dotted with freckles.

And then I see him:
the Frenchman in your dream.

He smiles at me, steps forward.
His cheeks press mine,
right and left.
I feel the rasp of his peppered beard.
But I know you want more.

Standing on tiptoe, my arms wrapped around his neck,
I look into his brown eyes, pleading
Une fois plus pour Jacqueline?
I hold my breath.
“Avec le plaisir,” he replies.

And we kiss like old lovers,
lingering on
until the taste of his lips cannot be forgotten.

Susan gives the following short bio and addendum to the poem:

I decided when I was eleven years old after winning a Scholastic Writing Contest that I wanted to be a writer. I can't remember when I didn't write poetry, but for the past five years I've written as a journalist and music journalist, freelancing for two newspapers (Mshale and Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder). A couple of years ago I was included as a finalist for Minneapolis' Loft Literary Center's poetry mentorship program, but haven't made much more headway into the world of poetry than that. This poem, Flying, began in my head in January, 2003, but wasn't finished, as if that's ever possible, until I actually went to France early in May, 2008. I stood in the airport for over an hour, people streaming by me, and simply envisioned the scene in the dream segment of my poem. I revised that section while flying over the Atlantic ocean.

Explication by Edward Nudelman

This free-verse narrative poem is very nearly two poems melded into one. Seamlessly. Flying is a poem of loss evincing a strong depth of love which the narrator emphasizes in the cataloguing of objects left behind from a very close and recently deceased female friend or relative, named Jacqueline. Using emblems that jog the memory, objects that were shared by both individuals, the narrator reminds herself (and us) what must be lost to lessen the anguish of loss. The narrator affirms her anguish in the untimely passing (‘you were not ready’) by over-stressing what must be jettisoned from sight and sense in order to assuage the grief: shampoo, chic bottles of nail enamel, a half-eaten bag of Cheetos, cinnamon candle, and even her night light. So much of working through grief is taking action; and conversely, so much of love is clinging to every last vestige of love- even when it is physically impossible.

There is a brilliant transition into the second section of the poem in the quartet,

Then I lay my head on your pillow,
inhaling your lilac memory,
pull up the yellow cotton sheet,
and dream your last dream.

which helps build energy and anticipation into the middle and ending sections of the poem. At this point of transition, the poem changes palpably in tone and we are introduced to an intimate and chance meeting as the dream of a dream unfolds: to visit Paris. It is true, the narrator cannot extricate herself from the memory of her loved-one, even after clearing the house of every reminder. ‘Going to Paris’ (perhaps an alternate suggestion for the title), is her dream, and one obviously never realized due to her early death. So the narrator must go there for her; and once there, the delineation between dream and reality become a little fogged. We find a reference to 'the Frenchman in your dream,' a clever construct to further magnify the illusory tone. The two phrases following consecutively, 'I feel the rasp of his peppered beard,' and, 'but I know you want more,' join the displaced lovers together in place and time with only imagination left as the final barrier. Cleverly, though we know the narrator is the stand-in, the scene is evocative of much more, a kind of transference of passion. We understand and see the meeting that could never occur, now fully realized. She melts into his arms, pleading, 'once more, for Jacqueline?' 'With pleasure,' he responds, and they 'kiss like old lovers.' Time has been erased from the equation. Finally, two lovers meet in the body of a poem, that were prevented from meeting by an early passing. The poem is an emotional release, but more than mere catharsis, it creatively describes an illusory representation of love that enacts a service of ultimate value, the resolution of a life-long dream.



  1. again my congratulations to you Susan, a very worthy winner!

  2. I loved Susan poem. Thanks Ed for the insight.

  3. beautiful poem!

  4. Delightful piece, Susan. Unpretentious, yet incredibly emotive and deep. (sorry if that sounds like a wine description!) Ed, I enjoyed your analysis, as well. Thanks!

  5. Hey. My hat's off to Ed for providing a space for new poet-writers such as myself. It's interesting to see Ed's wise commentary. I realize how important context can be.

    This poem, Flying, was pulled out of an elegiac trilogy and becomes isolated and more open to various interpretations. If it helps, here are the companion poems that went with this one, providing a more complete picture. my poetry blog

  6. Ed and Susan,

    Why is the (often unannounced)point-of-view change so common in modern poetry? It seems to me that it often badly impairs readability, although you have handled it beautifully, Susan.

  7. Hi Ann, tell me more about how you see the POV changed in my poem. I'd like to understand what you mean before responding.


  8. Susan,

    In your poem, the narrator changes from being herself and talking to a friend who has died, then, in essence, becomes that friend as she dreams her friend's last dream.

    The POV change is very clear in your poem, but when I read other poets on Gather, it often seems that there is more than one POV change in a poem. They seem to be mostly unannounced, so we are left to decipher their occurence by looking for a change in the style or content of the language that follows.

    I don't have a background in literature, which is a handicap, but I consider myself a reasonable perceptive reader. Nevertheless, I find sudden and unanounced POV changes very difficult to follow. I would appreciate amy comments you might have on this.


  9. Hi Ann, and I see what you mean, but am not sure if your interpretation is what I meant to convey.

    The first part of the poem is a list of "chores" that were left unfinished and I went into her home to finish them up. This included dreaming her last dream.

    Then in a dream-state, I completed the last piece of "business" that she'd left undone. In the dream-state, I stood in her place and fell in-love with France for her.

    Let's continue this conversation, if you don't mind.

  10. I should have also said that I stood in her place, but I was not her; she remained in the grave.

    And I'd also like my response to read "the narrator," not "I." That is, the narrator stood in the place of the deceased one, et al.

  11. I got the same impression Ann did, Susan, that the POV changed in the middle and I was totally caught up in the poem right up until that point.
    Though I will also say and agree with Ann in that you did it beautifully.

  12. I see what you mean. It took a while, but I see what you mean. ty

  13. Should I add anything else, Susan?

  14. I appreciate that you read my poem, Ann, and that you took time to delve deeper.

    Selfishly, I'd love for you to comment on my other stuff, but tell me who else you are reading so that we might continue discussions like this one.

  15. i came upon this poem tonight and realized that i had never commented on it. someday i'm going to procrastinate myself into total annihilation.

    anyway, i love it so much, susan and ed, it is so sad and so romantic, with a quiet, understated language that is reminiscent of the language of grief itself: it must be whispered.

    "My aching heart hears you whisper
    Allez à Paris."

    bravo, susan b, tu as brisé mon coeur de haut en bas, de droit à gauche, et toute place entre, et comme en deuil, je ne peux plus dire sauf un doux "je t'aime". je t'embrasse, ~laura t.

    nb. just read other comments. i myself was certain the two women were lovers and the one still living was grieving her lover through the tasks she was performing, the dream simply an ancient romantic fantasy of the deceased. i like my reading much, much better :>>)) xoxox

  16. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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  18. You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it


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