Monday, September 22, 2008

Poem of the Month, by Didi Menendez


The poem of the month for Thirteen Blackbirds is entitled, His Left Eye, a visually evocative poem by Didi Menendez, poet, publisher, and painter.

His Left Eye

He keeps his wife
tucked inside his left eye.
I see her wearing red.

Birds fall on his lap
and he places them inside a box.
He shuts and locks them one by one.
Their fluttering wings are never silent.
They are chirps of locusts in a hot
August evening silenced only by a poem.

He keeps his wife
safe tucked inside his left eye
and not the right.

His wife cares enough about her hair
to part it with a comb.
Her eyes are brown.
She wears green most of the time.
Sometimes she wears plaid.

He says his mother wore peonies scarves.
So did mine. They may have met once at
Sears and Roebuck looking through the
same yards of material on sale
searching for another scarf, another
flower pattern for a blouse.
Stopped at the hosiery department
and fingered the lingerie before
taking my sister and me by the hand
back to her sewing machine
and the little house we rented
on Wilshire Boulevard.

My mother wore her hair long,
light brown wavy long.
When she’d bend down to give me a kiss,
I’d see my father reflected in her right eye.
I’d draw his profile with my school pencils.

I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye.
I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.

His silence neither denies
nor accepts her there.
His eyes are blue.
I painted them green
and the reflection
is a white box full of feathers.

His Left Eye, a poem by Didi Menendez, is a visually inward look into experience that extrapolates in many directions, but finds its most expressive definition in a moving frame of contemplation, as if the poet were describing extemporaneously her painting into life. In her own words:

“This poem was inspired by a painting I did of Bob Hicok. When you are painting a portrait you get really close to everything on the landscape of the face. In the reflection of his left eye I saw something reflected in red. I imagined it was someone he loved and possibly where he kept love.”

-from American Poet Portraits, by Didi Menendez

A fascinating quality of this poem lies in its fluidity, a shifting perspective which begins with a detailed description of an unnamed man who “keeps his wife tucked inside his left eye,” and moves into aspects of the individual’s wife and then mother. The poem seamlessly transitions into the speaker’s own impressions with a striking image, “He says his mother wore peonies scarves. So did mine,” along with the unlikely notion that their mothers may have met at Sears Roebuck. This all to drive home the abstraction of what lies in the left eye (as opposed to the right?), and the speaker’s ensuing commentary on her own experience, involving both her own mother and father. The poem culminates with the declaration, “I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye,” pulling the reader back into the framework of the speaker’s identification. What she paints is what she sees in the left eye, how it reflects, what it means.

This is a poem that reads well. You can read it out loud and just enjoy the flow and the tempo changes. The tone is upbeat. Though touching on significant personal reflections connoting regret, or at least a sense of loss, the poem doesn’t give a hint of sentimentality or self-absorption. The effectiveness of the poem is in its detached view. What does the artist see in the eye? She sees his wife, wearing red. She sees a box where he places birds that have fallen in his lap. This conveys sensitivity and affection, but also gives room to wonder. Why are the birds trapped in his eye? “He shuts and locks them one by one.” It’s as if the speaker is reading into her own perception; and, in fact, the unfolding of the poem bears this out, as we are directed away from the individual being painted and into the private thoughts of the painter.

The anaphora in the poem, “He keeps his wife safely tucked inside his left eye,” not only reinforces the notion of security, but also provides a convenient transition as the speaker draws a focus inside the eye. We see his wife who “cares enough about her hair to cut it with a comb.” And more, her eyes are brown, she wears green. This is a painter speaking through her poem, finding a commonality and impact in shared memory (their mothers wore peony scarves), walking through Sears and Roebuck together, stopping at the hosiery department, taking her and her sister back to their house on Wilshire Blvd.

These wonderful, surrealistic and meandering images are falling out of Bob Hicok’s eyes. The reader is pulled into the matrix, without questioning association or needing to have the dots connected. It all works so well within the central metaphor of the poem, which allows us to see anything that the painter paints or wishes to convey in her painting (how like writing poetry).

My Left Eye is a poem about a painter, processing her right brain in a non-linear fashion. Here are impressions, weaving thoughts, interconnected links from childhood. Is it a poem about a woman’s need for masculine love? One could make that argument if too much credence were given to the following couplet, placed delicately before the closing section:

I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye.
I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.

There’s been an exploding revelation made here, but then the speaker reverts almost simultaneously back to the painting. “I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.” Are we being given the shake? Why does the speaker reinforce and reaffirm that she saw his wife in his left eye (wearing red) at the end of the poem, and further inform us that she painted the eyes green, even though they were blue? And the reflection was a white box full of feathers? Perhaps simply because that's the way she saw it. For the painter, as perhaps for the poet, seeing is one thing; understanding, quite another prospect, and putting the two together, the whole of art.


When asked to provide a short bio, Didi provided:

Bio: Didi Menendez is a Cuban-blooded American artist and poet. The best place to find her is on

So I googled Didi and here's a sneak preview:

Didi Menendez (b1960) is a Cuban-blooded American artist and author. She is the founding editor and publisher of MiPOesias, Oranges & Sardines, OCHO and several full-length books by Grace Cavalieri, Diego Quiros, Ron Androla, Emma Trelles, John Korn and others. You may find her at Facebook, Myspace, Goodreads, and other places on the Wide Wild World of the Internet. Her latest book of poems "When I Said Goodbye" was published in March 2008 by Geoffrey Gatza of BLAZEVOX.

EDN, 09/22/08


  1. Didi is a multitalented woman. I love her portraits and I do like this poem.

  2. I like this poem, too. I love poems that come from left field, especially, and didi is so good at coming from a different perspective.

  3. This poem was very fluid, as you said, Edward, and worked through the anaphora trope, unusual associations with the speaker´s own past and the use of a painter´s acuity to color to create an almost hypnotic portrait of a man´s possession of his wife´s presence in the place where the soul is transitive, the window to the world. Didi Menendez is clearly a supremely talented painter and poet, and you have done a bang up job extracting some of the more ambiguous meanings of the poem for us. As a fellow Angeleno, I felt a shiver of recognition with a few of the details from the cityscape--¨the Sears Roebuck building, ´the little house we rented on Wilshire Boulevard.´

    Thanks for this exceptional work, and careful textual analysis.

  4. No wonder this poem is Poem of the Month! There is so much to be discovered within its lines and it's a truly delightful, creative piece of writing filled with emotion. Edward's essay about it is also very interesting and thought-provoking. Excellent work all around!

  5. This is a powerful poem. It grabs your attention from the first. It has its own box rhythm, narrow but deep. I feel intense emotion, controled and held back with one hand. THANKS maryanne raphael

  6. brilliant. i love the picture painted of that mother past. what a time it was... hot and cold. xoxox ~lt

  7. Fascinating poem. Felt like I was looking at a picture, searching for the red in the eye, and the detail in the life.

  8. Didi,

    Thank you for your poem written through your visual artists' eyes, and thank you Ed, for the explication. I would have had difficulty following this poem without understanding that the author is also a painter.

    The fallen birds locked up in the box are haunting, as I think of birds as symbols of the soul. Your subject comes as intimdating, although I realize that he may not be this way in real life!


Please leave a comment