Is it Tuesday? Every Tuesday a new poem appears in the box and on the blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Poem 20 Jen March

Poem 20!  How did we get here?  Today's wonderful poem is by Jen March:

if the world is fragile

i did not notice
i buried the knowledge deep
in the soil of my skin
a thousand years before my birth
there was a cherry tree in the front yard
sour fruit between young lips
bloodied bruises on the sidewalk of self
the truth of roots of grasses of seasons
all of it was fresh and fine by me
if there was a question of strength
i never thought to ask
i kept my own serpentine soul skinned
and waxed
i kept a roar in every orifice
a wrench in every pocket
ready to build
i remembered the cherries
i pointed to the sky
i was a lion
i called the world
to my warm fur

This is a wonderful, deceptively complex poem. The title is also the first line, so the reader is in the poem before she knows it: “if the world is fragile/i did not notice.”  What I like immediately is the complication of tense.  I would expect a continuation of the present “the world is fragile” but “i do not notice” (or, more expectedly, "as i have noticed"). This complication points to the poem’s heart.  It continues in the next line “I buried the knowledge deep.” I am even more curious now because this line implies that the speaker knew something about the fragility of the world but never noticed it, suggesting we are born with an innate sense of our mortality along with the absolute ability to deny it.  So, three short lines into this poem, and a lot is going on.

What happens next is a building of images of strength and power, the ways in which the speaker saw herself as in control of her life and her destiny.  As a child, “all of it was fresh and fine by me” she says about bruises on “the sidewalk of self” and the “seasons.” She goes on “if there was a question of strength/I never thought to ask.” I just love these lines and their directness. If we don't ask the questions, we won't ever have to hear an answer we fear. This is a form of strength, but it's limited, as we shall see. Then the fabulous images:  “I kept a roar in every orifice/ a wrench in every pocket” the speaker says. She is fearless, with a noisy strength and the right tools for the job. There is nothing to fear. 

The poem concludes, “I was a lion/I called the world/to my warm fur.”  There is no doubt in these lines that at one point the speaker was oblivious to the ways in which the world is stronger even than the most powerful. Not even a fearsome roar and a benevolent sense of power can protect us. And we know that something has changed for her in the use of past tense.  There is something sad and elegiac in all those lines beginning with "i" and a verb (i buried, i kept, i remembered) the speaker uses build to let us know that this was before whatever the unnamed event (life?) changed her.

Other poems in this collection deal with grieving the loss of a mother, and I read this as a grief poem, too.  Grief changes us in many ways, but one of the most painful is in its ability to shift the world as we knew it.  It’s retroactive in its power.  How could I have refused to notice the world’s fragility? the poem asks.  But it does so subtly, letting the reader work down through the gorgeous line breaks, the controlled, mostly iambic lines, and through the use of past tense. 

I have not talked about that “if” that starts things off.  I would argue that the question it raises (is the world fragile? or is it we who are fragile?) is answered in the tense shift, but I have thought about it a lot and am not completely convinced of my reading of that title. What do you think?

For more of March's work, as well as information about her wonderful poetry-movie festival, please go to:

her poetry-movie, Swim, can be found online at:

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