Good Morning – Midnight

Under the Trees, 1865, Thomas Moran
Background Image: Under the Trees, 1865, Thomas Moran

This is the sort of poem people have in mind when they think of Emily. Someone has died, even though they didn’t want to (who does?) and so they ask to be admitted to heaven. Her use of morning as a play on mourning is typical of her love of opposites where the morning gives life but also takes it away. Yet the final image of a “little Girl” being turned away is quite sad and reminds me of a continuation of”Taken from men — this morning“.

Her use of “please take a little Girl” is worth considering because she might not be referring to the speaker of the poem. In the first stanza she writes that the narrator was not “tired” of the “Day”; it was “tired of Me” and so she is “coming home”. The narrator is dying, but hasn’t made the journey quite yet. We get the image of a beautiful landscape where the “East is Red” as if she is flying over the forest towards heaven in the “East”. And as she makes this journey she is frightened a little, she says the “Midnight” she is heading towards is “not so fair” as “Day” and that she chooses “Day” (living) over “Midnight” (death).

Thus, when she writes that the speaker asks to “please take a little Girl”, there is a real sense of longing and sadness in having to leave the “Day”. In fact the poem is even a little frightening in that we know the “Day” will not have her back and so she must make a journey she is unwilling to partake of. This opens up the possibility that she is referring not just to death, but to the position of women in the world where youthful innocence is taken from them through marriage and that “Home” is the husband’s “Home” and not the “Home” she grew up in. The mourning of “morning” as the new bride travels through the landscape to her new “Home” is expressed in the fears of the “little girl” who has been taken from her “Home” to a new life.

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Huh, The Picatrix is a real thing – I though he just made it up. So is he comparing the internet to the sacred grimoires of the ancient past? The internet is sort of like a shaman guiding you around to tell you what you need to know but at the same time filling you with shit that will eventually have to be sucked out of your nose with a tube in the hospital.

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Cancer is a theme of this novel, cancer and sickness in general, be it Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, cancer, anxiety with depression, more cancer. Everyone’s bodies are giving out or they are at war with their own bodies – but the spirits in the bodies are strong, like the people who occupied Alcatraz (like Richard Oakes). So Alcatraz was sort of like the sick body that the spirits were trying to revive.

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Her mom was laying like that because of cancer – stomach?

“She told me the world was made of stories, nothing else, just stories, and stories about stories” – she’s right. Everything is a story and reality gets to be whoever tells it. In their case their reality is at odds with the US government, is at odds even with the white kids who make fun of their names in the schools.

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There in the weird space where the adults want to make a stand and teach the kids about their heritage and past but the kids just want to go home and watch TV and, well, be kids. It’s like the kids know that this is all a lost cause, that all they’ve done is occupy somewhere people only wanted to escape from.

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I like how she isn’t sure if Bear Shield is supposed to be a shield bears use to protect themselves, or a shield people use to protect themselves against bears. She doesn’t understand her name and feels burdened carrying “that big old name around”. The kids don’t even change it to make fun of it, they just say the whole thing because it sounds funny to them.

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“I know this means a lot of editing, a lot of watching, and a lot of listening, but that’s just what our community needs considering how long it’s been ignored, has remained invisible” – and it’s interesting he will remain invisible to make the project.

Interesting how the one person to be skeptical was the other Native American, was weird and fascinating to see that tension there (there).

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I like the playing with the expression “There There”. In the Radiohead song it’s almost like it’s about “there” always being somewhere else (as in ‘over there’) but not here. There is also the false comforting expression of “There there” we say when we don’t have anything to say to someone who is distressed, and then the Gertrude Stein sense in that there is no there there, it’s gone.

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“I’m sick from dying” is a good line – and he relates that to life in general where “time has us”. Granted this is a pessimistic view, but it fits his Uncle who is dying and has been dying his whole life.

Interesting play on the idea of medicine with “Some medicine is poison” – obviously alcoholism and drug addiction is often associated with Native Americans, but it is a real threat.

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The confusion about the scripts is interesting in that it sort of ties back to Tony’s story where Indians are on TV (scripted entertainment where nothing was real or accurate) or, if it’s a transcription, it’s an attempt to set the record straight, but also by turning it into entertainment. It’s a weird blending of reality and unreality, fact and fiction, truth and fiction.

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The lyrics from Radiohead’s “There There” say “Just cause you feel it / doesn’t mean it’s there”, and that “We are accidents waiting / Waiting to happen”. I can see why Dene might like this song since there is a hint of paranoia in it but also an anxiety of our lives being accidents and that something, anything, might happen and that “someone’s on your shoulder” either watching you or it’s you judging you.

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Dene Oxendene seems anxious, low self-esteem, and needing something the ease him (drugs, weed) but nothing satisfies him. He’s hyper aware of how people see him in that he know how to not get the attention of people who might question him, “Whatchyoulookingat”. Though this is typical for anyone in the city to look without looking, he seems nervous about all of it. The city might not be the best place for him.

Tho’ I get home home how late – how late

The Homecoming, 1887, Arnold Böcklin
Background Image: The Homecoming, 1887, Arnold Böcklin

The most interesting moment in this poem is when she wonders “what myself will say” upon coming home and seeing everyone’s eyes “turn” towards her as she walks in the door. The rest of the poem is filled with longing and expectation, but just as she is about to feel the “fire” of her hearth, doubt creeps in.

You could say this is a road poem, written on the journey as the traveler makes their way home, perhaps by the same person as in “Went up a year this evening!” She could also be saying that home is not just her literal home – such as in Amherst – but home is the afterlife too.

But it is her unusual image of “descending – dumb – and dark” which is quite fascinating. “Descending” is not typically how we think of what happens in the after life when we ascend into heaven. Here she is “descending” which in one reading could be her stepping out of the carriage at night onto the carriage steps and then to the ground below, but it could also be read as “descending” into the underworld – the Greek word being Katabasis which means to descend and which has a long history in art.

In The Odyssey, Book 11, Odysseus descends into the underworld where the dead will only speak once they have drunk from the blood he has brought with him. Upon his arrival he sees that since he has been away on his voyage his mother has died,

Then appeared the ghost of my dead mother,
Anticleia, Autolycus’s child.
I’d left her still alive when I set off
for sacred Troy. Once I caught sight of her,
I wept, and I felt pity in my heart.
Nonetheless, in spite of my great sorrow,
I could not let her get too near the blood,
until I’d questioned blind Teiresias.

Odyssey, Book 11, 103-110

Thus in Emily’s poem when she says “To wonder what myself will say / And what itself, will say to me” she is, perhaps, alluding to Odysseus’ anxiety of speaking with the dead, his sorrow at seeing that someone he loved has died, and that the afterlife is not a cheerful place, but a place of darkness where the spirits are “dumb” until they are brought an offering of blood so that they then may speak.

In many of Emily’s poem, the voyage of life is compared with nautical imagery, such as in “On this wondrous sea – sailing silently“, “Whether my bark went down at sea” and “Adrift! A little boat adrift!” so she is part of that long tradition of writers going back to at least Homer who also see life’s voyage as a difficult ocean crossing. Thus as Emily is in her carriage or on her boat in this poem, she is filled with both the happy anticipation of arriving home which she describes with words such as “Extasy” (in her idiosyncratic spelling of this word), “expecting”, “Transporting”, and “fire” (as in the hearth fire of the home), but she is also filled with doubts which she alludes to with “late”, “dumb”, “done expecting”, “Agony”, “burn”, “long-cheated”, and “Beguiles”. She does not use these words in isolation, rather each of them can be read in a positive or a more pessimistic light which illustrates how the traveler who has been away too long – “how late” – will be filled with anxiety for the moment when they finally arrive and the fear of what they might find when they get there.

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“Tony, it ain’t simple like that,” she said.
“Don’t call me simple. Don’t fucking call me simple. You fucking did this to me.”

I’ve always wondered about how conversations turn like that. In context she is saying that the situation isn’t simple, but he takes it as a slight against his intelligence. Was she actually insulting him? Is he over-parsing the conversation?

I’ve had this happen lots to me.