Kenneth Fearing: X Minus X

Of the three poems we read of Kenneth Fearing’s, (Dirge, and$2.50 the others), this one spoke to me the most. Perhaps the other two are so steeped in earlier 20th century pop-culture and slang that I was a little lost to relate the meaning, but X Minus X spoke more deeply to that crazy desire we have as Americans to consume and dream.

There is a loneliness to this poem: he writes “your friend”, “her dream”, “his life”, “their destiny” as being terminated. The radio is “still”, her dreams are “finished”, the stock ticker is “silent”, and destiny is “bare”. These desires are all left unfulfilled and the individual is left holding onto to just the desire itself. Even in recreation, “dance-hall”, and “theater”, there is no hope because they are “closed” and “dark”.

And he puts “desire” in the center of the poem, as if desire is the heart of the poem and the people who inhabit it. And it’s a shared desire that is left wanting, “Still there will be your desire, and hers, and his hopes and theirs,”. We all have it in common but notice how it turns from simple wanting to “curse” as a “reward”, and finally with “dismay” in that there is perhaps no substance in the reward.

The final stanza mirrors the first in that “friend” is now “enemy” and that “enemy” is dead, implying perhaps a murder to get out of paying the debt “collector”. And instead of “her dream”, we have a “salesman” who is “sleeping” – his dream being making the sale and implying her dream is to make the purchase. And it all leads to nothing because there is no substance, the words of the “movie queen” have already been spoken and the rich “magnate” is “gone”. There is nothing left because they’ve been paid, they got something, your money. But you still have the desire for more.