Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scheherazade by Richard Siken

Selected as the poem to open this collection, my spidey sense tells me that Scheherazade is foreshadowing. We’ll see if I still feel that way once I get all the way through, as I’ve only read about half of the poems so far, but at a pretty quick pace. There is just so much packed in to this short piece.

It starts with the narrator asking to be told, again, about a past dream. This request comes across with the tone of a child asking to be told a favorite story. The dream/story is the perfect set up for a collage of strong and distinct images, some realistic, others not so much. There are bodies in a lake, warm clothes for them, horses who run so hard they forget they are horses, trees with roots that do not need to end, days that are bright red, a carpet rolled up for dancing, a police radio that plays music, and a supply of apples, one more appearing with every kiss.

Here’s my guess at the foretelling. These poems are about the kind of love that almost drowns you, time and again, but still you cozy up in the habitual aftershock of surviving each near-death experience together; the kind of love that requires animals be pushed to their limit to illustrate freedom, sexual dynamic (if not the sex itself), and endurance; it struggles with denial and anxiety while its origins and outcomes continue to extend outward, above ground and under. In this relationship there is an omnipresence of bullets and broken glass and blood, blood inside and outside of bodies, bodies dancing and bodies being rolled. This is a love that breaks the law and is perpetually on the lam, and somehow, in the midst of all of this, there are kisses that produce the fruit of knowledge. (Is there such a thing as knowing too much?)

All of this imagery is set within rhetorical questions of “how.” “How it was late...” and “How we rolled...” and “How all this and love too, will ruin us.” The final lines of the poem freely go into abstractions about a relationship that seems destined to live on the edge. Maybe the edge is all it knows.

The relationship, I’m guessing, is very much an entity unto itself in these poems. It leaves the individuals behind, it devours them, it transcends them and it is all encompassing. In this poem, the same light that can be seen through the windowpane possesses the bodies of the narrator and his lover. There is a oneness present that is exceedingly tender and yet at odds with itself in that there are eruptions, tension, implosions, and violence in the poems to come.

This poem ends with the line “Tell me we’ll never get used to it.” It reminds me of a similar line, we've all said it ourselves, whether in a moment of feeling smitten or well-loved or well-fucked or even kicking back on a beach vacation, we say, “I could get used to this.”

As a final line I think this one is paradoxically brilliant, because my other take on it is: Tell me we won’t get boring. The relationship demands this somehow. Or the characters believe it is an imperative at least, and they feel compelled to answer the relationship's call: If you two get boring, I will die. Which brings us back to Scheherazade, who had to figure out how to tell a story in a way that would never get boring, and would never end. She did this to save her own life, and she had to keep doing it, one night at a time.


  1. First, I have to ask, am I the only one who notices that the glistening wet thumb in the photo on the cover is very phallic?

    Your description of this book and the poems are very compelling. I like the idea of a love that is perpetually on the lam.

  2. Ummm... yeah. I think his thumb probably figures prominently into his portfolio. Probably safe to say that this dude is the It Boy in the world of thumb models.

  3. Damn, that poem was gorgeous. I especially loved the horses for some reason; I think I'd like to run so fast I forget I'm a horse. I found the spoken delivery a bit disappointing, though; maybe I should try my own and send it to Whale Sound.

    Your observation about "Tell me we'll never get boring" also struck a chord. I think people need to be told this not just in love affairs, but when plying any kind of art or skill. I spent a little bit of time being an extremely mediocre actor, and one of my major struggles was how to keep it from getting boring after opening night.

    I honestly did not notice the thumb, but now that you point it out, Laurie... yeah.

  4. I was most impressed that you managed that lengthy a synopsis on that short a poem. I read the poem after and first thought was, that's it? was expecting longer w/ all you had to say. As for phallic thumb, of course you know I had to go searching for that. And oddly enough, had not noticed it until mentioned several times. Had to really look, but yah, uh, rather wet and darkish and glistening, is that 'thumb'. But not just that, its the whole oral fixation picture, a steamy take off of the thinking gesture w/ lips provacatively parted, etc. So there's my synopsis on the thumb.

    p.s. its showing I deleted first post, but just couldn't figure out how to do my small logic edit after posting, so...