You know, I was thinking today, that last time I participated in NaPoReMo, I picked a very difficult poet, a poet whose poems I had a difficult time parsing - Heather McHugh. I felt like I needed a magic decoder ring to crack the puzzle of many of her poems. In contrast, Daniel's poems seem deceptively, almost disappointingly "easy" to comprehend. The narrative, the metaphors, the messages are all pretty straightforward. Initially, I thought that they are so "in your face," that there were no layers to be plumbed, no messages beyond the - for want of a better term - shock value of addressing issues that few poets have dared to address in the way she addresses them. It wasn't until today that I realized, that this may very well be where the layers of her poems lie - in the readers reaction(s).
I have noticed my own tendency in many of her poems to kind of do a flinch and a gasp, a half turn away with, then like a guilty bystander at a particularly horrific accident, or a conservative Christian at a peep show, I will sneak another peek. At her best, her poems make me, at least assess my own reaction, then assess what it is about the topic, the approach to the topic, the language she uses, what she says or doesn't say that causes the reaction.
This next poem, is loaded from the title and moves into a beautifully loaded line filled with rejection
a big boy, always fighting, growing into the shape/of his father's despisal-the best part of you, kid,/ran down my leg-and hulking down, ashamed/inside his own body as if something essential/had been carved out of him and carried away,/and was moldering now, undiscovered,/in the decomposing garbage
and the boy goes to war and it really isn't all that different, he becomes an excellent soldier, blowing people he doesn't care about, losing count, while Around him, the jungle steamed fragrantly, indifferent/as a whore rising to bathe in the Quonset brothel outside Da Nang. And this, the jungle, the poem implies, is his understanding of the feminine.
Later we learn a different meaning, perhaps, to what his father said, in
And there he was, too, laboring on into the night/hunched above the body of the boy's own mother,/and pulling out, the son realizes now, to confound/conception, and rolling off and over in the dark/just a few feet distant from the body of his boy, curled/
his hands cupped on his groin to form a little sacramental space/devoted to the only place in life that gave him any pleasure.
Certainly, the boy, now a man and war-hardened, sees his father's insult as a bit more nuanced, though hardly as a compliment. But, on the other hand, perhaps, he no longer equates himself with the refuse. Quite.