“Revising It Into Something I Can Bear” by Lisa Mecham

September 29th, 2017

Originally published at The Shallow Ends, you can read Lisa Mecham’s poem here.

This poem is small and tight on the page, contained in relatively short lines of even length (4 – 6 words; 4 – 8 syllables) so that it appears as a short column. This sense is enhanced by the first line, “What if instead, a cathedral”, making us think of literal cathedral columns. The title tells us that whatever “it” is, it is painful to the speaker (unbearable), and the poem will be an attempt to recast this “it” into something the speaker can bear to look at. The first lines fulfill this expectation with the gentle imagery of “cherubs and doves, glass stained.” But the poem introduces a shiver with the next lines -

My small back
cool upon the smooth
stones.” -

which both continue with a gentle imagery of smooth stones and allow a glimpse of the unbearable the poem is seeking to revise – “my small back” gives us an image of a child, and in light of the title we begin to suspect the harm done to this child that the poem does not say. This double vision continues with the lines

Look! I too can make
an angel, arms, legs cast
apart.”

I simultaneously imagine a child making snow angles and a child spread-eagle in a sexual position: the bearable and the unbearable contained in the same lines the way the picture on a tilt card changes with just a slightly different angle. It’s an extraordinary line doing double-work, carrying two completely different meanings with it, both of which are essential to the poem. The childlike innocence of a snow angel cannot be sustained, the shadow is always there -

My sweet one, this baptism
is always gonna hurt.
” -

and the poem which started out reimagining the scene ends with not being able to look away from

“the oval mouth
at the rise of the child’s why.”

 


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