Writing or Re-Writing? 6

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A Question of Thematic Unity

 The question for today concerns thematic unity: should one strive for thematic unity or should one present thematic contrasts? This question is provoked by today’s blog post, Obsidian’s Edge 22 10:00 PM, in which the narrator, sitting alone at the table in his apartment in Oaxaca is filled with memories of home, a home that is very different from the daily reality of life in Oaxaca.

The contrast with the sights and sounds of Oaxaca is obvious and immediate: outside in the street, a world of sunshine and shadow, darkness and fireworks, singing and dancing, people and poetry; yet within the room, alone, the narrator is challenged by that other world in which he is also immersed, the world of home and memories from home. This other world contrasts cold with warmth, the coast with the interior, memories of home with the immediate presence of Mexico.

I keep asking myself, would it be better to keep the thematic unity of Oaxaca, rather than to try and contrast the past with the present, thus creating a contrast between the distance there-sense and the immediate here-sense? The insertions try to emphasize the strangeness and immediacy of the new world (Oaxaca) that is in truth already so old. My worry is that I have not done so, certainly not in the way that I wanted to. As a result, I am worried that these “home visits” are intrusive and break the thematic unity that I would also like to establish.

The same question arises with earlier posts, Obsidian’s Edge 17 (Home Thoughts) and 16 (Siesta and Dream). These three poems (or sets of poems) break the thematic unity of the Oaxacan presence. They work as a contrast to that present, a reminder of the origins of the foreigner who observes and writes. But do they intrude, do they break the unity to such an extent that they stick out, a sore thumb hitching a ride to nowhere in particular?

My feeling right now after scanning the rewrite yet again is that they are intrusive and should be excluded from the final text. I have other poems and scenes from Mexico that would fit the Oaxacan themes much better. I give an example below. So, fellow followers and fellow bloggers: the rabbit is out of the trap and the greyhounds are primed and ready — I would appreciate your thoughts.

First: Today’s Post

10:00 PM
Alone at the Table
Memories of Home

1

Salt on the sea wind sifts raucous gulls in packs,
breeze beneath wings, searching for something
to scavenge. Seaweed. The tidemark filled with
longing. A grey sea crests and rises. Staring eyes:
stark simplicity of that seal’s head filling the bay.
Next day, his body stretched dead on the beach.

The river runs rocky beneath the covered bridge.
Campers have created first nation’s rock people,
heaping stone upon stone. At low tide, on the dried
river bed, there is no easy way to say no. White foam

horses in the farrier’s forge stamp and surge. A cold
wind blows at Cape Enrage. Wolfe Point sees late
gales transform the beach: the sandbar carved:
a Thanksgiving turkey, stripped to bare rib bone.

Dead birds sacrificed, so I can lie here in comfort:
my eiderdown is stuffed with dull dry winter coats.

2

Gold and silver, the last breath going out of him,
this warrior destined to dance before a cruel sun.

His ultimate spoken threads, so delicate, so thin,
they run, blood and water, through his pierced side,
sorrowful beneath the spectator’s stare. Ice cold,
this water on which he no longer dares nor cares

to walk. Rich silk: this tapestry woven with another
man’s words. Ghosts shunt back and forth across ice.
Late autumn mists confuse the paths, leading nowhere.

And now the alternate post on which I am still working.

10:00 PM
Alone at the Table
Memories

(Alternate Take)

1

Last year,
limed in a wedding
suit of white,
the grand tree of Tule
escaped from its compound.

Waving its branches wildly,
stumped down the road
to Teotitlán
in search of a bride.

2

It found instead,
on the Day of the Dead,
a carpet weaver
who interfaced its spirit
with fine lamb’s wool
shot with silk.

Next morning,
the tree came back,
its soul intact.

Now you can’t take photos:
the locals have imprisoned it
in a straitjacket of rusty iron railings.

3

The tree will not escape again.

It wanders round its pen,
hiding in corners,
never quite what you expect,
nor where you expect it to be.

Child prisoners,
escaped from their schools,
flash tin mirrors
at the underside of its branches.

Their dancing lights
set ancient spirits
free from their incarceration.

4

Serpiente lies along a lower limb,
waiting for some gossip to walk his way.

Mono swings from branch to branch
and is never still.

The quetzal bird preens
the emeralds of his feathers;
mirrors pursue him
with their liquid light.

5

Wandering eyes need time to rest.
They need time to discover
the old wrinkled man,
face like an ancient manuscript
all lines and creases,
his dark skin dried by the sun:
coarseness of furrowed bark.

Half buried in the trunk,
he nurses a fiery flame.

6

Convinced by the eloquence
of his hand-carved map,
I strive to follow
my troubled heart
struggling on its journey
across earth’s sea.

7

Conjured in the mirrors’
confusing crossfire,
blood flowers
dot the poinsettias
eyes and cross their Ts.

Sunshine engraves my name
on the sacrificial pelt
I bought at the abastos.

A blazing sun
dries the cries of shock
coursing through my victim eyes.

5 thoughts on “Writing or Re-Writing? 6

    • Those were indeed the days, Jane. I use comparison and contrast quite a bit, just by shuffling the metaphors and facing them off one against another. Intensification works well too, depending on the effect for which you are looking.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Roger, I really love them both. In the original #22, you flow smoothly between past and present as a man reflecting alone from his room might. I agree with you that the alternative #22 fits more cohesively in theme with the rest of the piece than the original.

    A long poem might benefit from an occasional breakup of the original theme. I’m not gifted in poetry, but I am a classically trained musician. I would equate it to a long musical composition that returns to the pattern of the original theme but allows for some contrasting voice in the individual movements. I often think of my novel writing in this way. The threads of the original theme get pulled all the way through the piece, but chapters play out sometimes strikingly different variations on the theme.

    They both work beautifully, imo, but in very different ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A very thoughtful comment, Tanya. Thank you. I am still working on the alternate but I think that I will use it in the final version and keep the original for elsewhere: nothing is ever lost, in that sense. I will do similar alternate rewrites for the other two poems I mentioned. I think the Oaxaca theme is best kept together.

      Liked by 1 person

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