Daily Archives: February 7, 2017

T.R. Hummer: Where You Go When She Sleeps

Hummer is the only author other than Tolstoy who describes dreaming as it really feels like. Tolstoy, in War and Peace, does it numerous times (Book 14, Chapter 10: Petya the night before the battle – before he dies, and Book 11, Chapter 32: Andrei as he imagines Crystal threads hanging over his head that collapse and reform – and he’s dying, too).

In both cases, Hummer and Tolstoy, dreaming is related to death, in fact both involve the death of a boy of roughly the same age (12-ish to 14-ish). And both have an in-between before the dream itself (or death) where what is imagined to totally unreal: Hummer with the metals color that seems to have just come into existence, and Tolstoy with the crystalline threads of air.

Here, though, is far more descriptive. We literally get lost and swallowed up in this image, we drown in the oats, we suffocate, we are pulled under. There is a fullness here, but also, like the oats slipping through our fingers, we can’t quite grasp onto it, there’s nothing solid in this world. Love is like that – it’s real,but we can’t hold it, we can only hold the one we love. And we fall into it, are filled up by it, are in a way killed by it because love is a sort of of the death of the self and the birth of two together.

And he draws an interesting parallel between the father’s tears falling on both their faces (as if the dead boy is still somehow alive, or we can feel the father wishing life back into the boy), and the sense of being so in love with someone that you want to cry. He holds her head just as the father holds his son. And it’s all fleeting because love can end just as life – and both can end suddenly.

He sets this up beautifully with the word “jerk”, it’s an odd word to use here, but it reminds me of those shudders you get when you almost fall asleep then jerk awake. You can feel the dreaming coming on, the body is fighting something, like someone drowning.

There is also a mystery here because her dream is her own, it does not include you. Her love is her own, her life is her own, even if she has placed complete trust in you to fall asleep in your lap.

We then get “falling” and “dragging” and “fell” and “leaning” and then he uses the words “wings” to describe his weak, helpless arms. We’ve fallen with him and we are too weak to climb out.

The end, like death itself, love will not let you go Even if you die, or are separated, it’s still there.  And it’s like a dream, unreal, unique to each person, perhaps even unknowable for someone to explain to you (like a dream), but strong and forever.

Sylvia Plath: Metaphors

I have to admit to being a little slow on this one. 9 = 9 months; she’s pregnant. At first I thought she was just getting fat, which is true – she is growing – but the riddle is what’s growing inside her.

There’s a weird detachment to her pregnancy, too. She very in tune with what’s happening to her body and the strangeness of it all, but not much thought about the child: it’s sort of all about her while this thing is happening to her. I’m not judging, but it is interesting. Maybe that’s her depression talking?

So after a little math it’s pretty clear each line is 9 syllables and there are 9 lines in total so the very 9 months of pregnancy is built into the poem, the poem literally is a metaphor (though also oddly figurative in a way in its physical structure) for pregnancy.

Each line being a different month of pregnancy is its own metaphor for that stage. The first month is the riddle – I’m pregnant? – and I wonder if it was planned. Now since I’ve never been pregnant I can only guess at what she’s feeling each month – month 2 bloated with someone living in her (house), month 3 is sort of an acceptance of her condition (she describes herself as a melon), but the tendrils are interesting, it’s like an abstract Dali painting.

I won’t go through each line, but the lines “a cow in calf” and “I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,” stand out for me. She doesn’t say a calf in a cow, it’s reversed here so she might be playing on calving (birthing). And the apples are great because I feel like I’ve actually felt her eat that whole bag (in reference to her being hungry and eating strange things perhaps) and they are all tumbling down into her stomach and she is full of these lumpy, round, fruits, with seeds and all.

The final line feels more literal than the other since she may very well have taken the train to the hospital to give birth. In 1973, at least 10 years after this was written my mother took a cab to the hospital so it’s not unreasonable. But there is also the image of a train going in only one direction like her in the canal and a freight train is about to race out of her – there’s an inevitability and a hurry to the last line, no doubt she’s ready to get the riddle out of her.

Wonderful poem!