Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Life with a Latin Professor

Not online.

The plot is simple: the narrator and her partner (Lorenzo, the Latin professor) are carried off into the sky at unpredictable intervals, by various sorts of beings who seem intent on ravishing them. I would have serious reservations about signing up for this sort of foreign exchange program in real life, but Griffiths makes it sound surprisingly appealing.

The poem draws considerable energy from temporal jumps. S1 takes place “last week”; S2 takes place “last month”; S3 is in the present tense, and describes things that happen habitually; and S4 speculates about possible future events. The overall effect is a strong sense that the abductions are an ongoing pattern.

My favorite kidnappers are the chain-smoking aliens in S1, whose mothership is “tricked out with silver plastic and plump crimson velvet/ like a 50s cinema foyer”. Somehow, my mind wants to fill in polyester suits and chest medallions. They’ve got to be the cheesiest aliens I’ve ever heard of.

S2 gives us a sexual encounter with seraphim, told in hints and implications. Griffiths’ narrator gives us “the smell of incense and burnt plumage”—all right, standard enough for angels—but then follows it up with “lingered between my thighs for days”. Evidently, the seraphim were satisfying; they have the narrator humming “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

S3 is a little hard to parse. The narrator insists that she doesn’t mind the abductions, and doesn’t envy her boring friends. Often this sort of insistence is a sign of insincerity, or (to put a different spin on it) making the best of a bad situation. But here, I believe the narrator. I think she probably just feels a bit superior to her friends.

S4 does a couple of things at once. First, there’s the literal scene: the narrator makes a delicious-sounding breakfast of scrambled eggs, mimosa, toast, and coffee, while she speculates about who might carry her off. Second, there’s some lovely bird imagery. The narrator wonders whether she’ll be “radared by an eagle/ seeking a swan” (I think this is also a reference to the myth of Leda), and then follows this up with the scrambled eggs, and ends the strophe with “our hearts are always thudding like wings”. Third, there’s the some lovely phraseology, including a comparison between the couple and “eyelets waiting to be hooked”.

If any seraphim or Greek gods are reading, please leave your contact info in the comments.

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