These waves dart, back and forth,
the sand rises, disperses, riddled
with pervasive salts.
Let us begin, then. Notice immediately, I use the word these to point out the waves. What does this do? First, consider the assonance in these waves, and picture in your head the spume-tipped waves of a shoreline washing back and forth across bronze sand. There's an aural resonance, in my head anyway. Secondly, you, reader, each and every one of you, you're all there with the narrator. They're pointing the waves out, they're casting a noncommittal eye, they are making sure you're as aware as the narrator is of the surrounding landscape. Waves. Not currents. Consider the dual meaning of a wave, and think of it darting. Do waves dart? We're given a sense of misplaced timing in the very first line. Waves move with more of a subtle grace than a dart, but a wave goodbye can be as quick as one can move the hand, can it not? Assuming this, then, what are we waving goodbye to?
Ambiguity can be a powerful tool in poetic writing. This poem, already, feels obscure, feels as if there is something a first reading might not illuminate. That isn't to suggest that a poem of clarity and clear strength is being undermined here; I am speaking of this poem alone and what my conscious mind might be aware of after dozens of reads during and after the process of writing it.
See the imagery. The sand might rise, yet it might not. It is revealed and obscured by the waves, and the sand is constantly shifting, dispersing. The water in its inexorable back-and-forth motion is blurring our focus, causing us to think, perhaps at a subconscious level, and now take the word riddled. When posed with a riddle, we think, and often those thoughts, as we struggle to figure the puzzle, are perforated with doubts, and thus, riddled by the riddle. So very often, poetry is riddled with ambiguous meaning, with a writer deploying words they believe suit the poem best. Are these conscious decisions? Perhaps. Who knows – each writer composes at a different speed, within a different time frame, a different deadline limit, anything might separate a hundred thousand writers in their construction and application of the craft: time of day, inspiration, their mood, their current physical or mental condition, what they most recently read, what they've seen or heard in the recent moments, and perhaps most importantly, our individual experiences. What writers can share, are techniques. Pattern, length, beat, phrasing, psychic distance. What else do we all share? The human condition. Fears, likes, dislikes, needs, desires, motivations, secrets, loves, hates.
Pervasive salts. Salt, if we extend the image, can be tangy, sour (think of sea water), it can, in vast quantities, spoil any meal, and in even vaster quantities (think of the Dead Sea), it can keep even the most capacious of bellies afloat. Sourness, everywhere, insidious in its omnipresence. Salt. Sourness. Sibilance. Speak aloud this line "She slithered across slick stones." That hissing noise, can you hear it? I don't need to spoon-feed you with hissing associations and I'm not trying to suggest that salt is serpentine (or am I?), but there is a distinct feeling of unsolicited presence. A violation, if you will. Does the sibilance also occur, looking back, with these waves?
Four robust stilts halt
this inexorable tide, while
I wait, suspended,
Poetry is unique. It is a form of expression we have sought out for thousands of years. It can be rigid in structure, it can flow freely or it can lodge itself somewhere in between, yet it is a condign form of expression, because at our fingertips is our greatest gift – language. Robust stilts halting a tide. Inexorability. Suspension. There are words in this stanza we can associate with war, with destruction, with abrogation. The water's tide will flow whether these wooden stilts fitted deep down like it or not. Oftentimes hope is nothing more than a phantasmagorical illusion. Nature finds a way. The water will simply flow around, there is no halting, because inexorability cannot be halted. Why then, impose that particular verb upon that particular adjective? Because in jarring our sense of what is right and real and natural, we ourselves are suspended, from reality. And thus, the narrator, suddenly revealed as the I of the poem, is again no better off than you as a reader. We are all suspended.
Robust stilts halt a tide. Could I have written Four stilts halt wide/this inexorable tide/while I wait, suspended...? Could I have attributed a rhyme scheme to the poem? I could have, yes. Yet, in my construction and now in the deconstruction, it did not, and still doesn't, feel as if it would have worked. This poem's rhyming structure is fractured, free to roam and dance amidst the chaos of difference, yet, ironically, perhaps my structural intent was to jar with this stanza, with this poem. After all, if we take the chaos metaphor further, is not the water poisoning the vigorous, robust stilts?
"I" wait. Who is the narrator? Why do they wait? We know so little, and yet so much is available to imagine.
locked in this gaol for eternity,
now slow is the back and forth
rock, and stone and silt,
Ah, enjambment. Yet another sense of looseness along with the waves and the sibilance. A structure that is almost supercilious of structure itself. The poem thus far has not bore the Sisyphean weight of rigidity and reality. Yet, the suspension in the previous stanza now strikes us with an onerous struggle in discerning the real and the extraordinary. A gaol for eternity. This life sentence the narrator waits within, what is it? The literal, wrought iron bars of a prison cell? A form of guilt, perhaps, so protean and pragmatic in its malign intent it can transform compassion, sorrow, regret, loss, all into hate and anger? What is prison? A restraint on our freedom, on our very being, on our self-actualization? Physical or psychological, this narrator is suffering in some way. And in their elliptical style, we will find out whatever they feel we should know.
Rocking back and forth. The waves? Are the stilts rickety? Something new? In these first three stanzas, we have had rises, halt, wait, slow, back and forth – all forms of motion or the harnessing, the supposed, perhaps conceited mastery, of motion – that is to say, being able to wait, or to halt. A question I pose to each of you, then: is it harder to wait, impatience tugging at your very core, threads of your forbearance slowly becoming undone by this pernicious human condition to act in the here and the now; or, is it more difficult to stop, feet firm, dust pluming in thick miasmas around your feet as you ask yourself why, how, what and realise – perhaps – that your intentions were in vain?
A back and forth rock. A rock noun or a rock verb? Is there sense in this ambiguity? Yes. To question each of you. Look at the words around the word rock. Back, forth, rock – an asyndetic list of motions yet again. Rock, stone, silt – an asyndetic list of nature's offspring, of the ingredients which have composed this mighty Earth. Rock is the fulcrum in this stanza. Motion hangs in the balance, as a result, and consider how stones are smaller, less indurate than rock, and silts less than stone. There is a burden upon that single word, weighted heavily, cumbersome. Why? Because there remains this haze between the possible and the speculative. What do we really know so far? Only the fine, external nuances. Could, at this point, the narrator be a rock?
I shall peruse more stanzas of this poem in a week or so. Remember, I do not argue that writing is wholly conscious, and that we must spend hours deciding upon each word. Merely that, once we have an idea of our theme, our intent, our rhythm, our desires as a writer, we can begin to access the toolbox necessary for construction, and later on, look back at how we might have used those tools.