Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Poem: The Mystery of an Unopened Box


I have moved a lot of times. After growing up in one Michigan town (we moved away for one year to a town north of that town when I was in fifth grade), I moved to Chicago for college. From Chicago to Oregon. Back to Michigan, then to California where the kids were born, and from there to Istanbul for three years. Then back to Michigan where we've been these 23 years. (We've also moved many times within Michigan since then, to four different houses in four different towns.)

This summer our children are both making big moves to different parts of the country from where they have been. For some reason this morning I saw their moves to new locales the way I see these boxes in my collection of boxes.

The poem may be oblique, I can't tell sometimes what will speak to you, and what will be silent. Why can't you just read my mind? and vice versa? (I do so thank you for reading.) There may be too many metaphors, and it could no doubt use more work. But I am posting it all the same, for something in its wandering fits the occasion of these moves for me, as I look back on my own moves and changes, realizing that I was always still me, myself, the becoming I, even when what arranged itself around me was in flux. Well, when aren't things in flux? And for that matter, when is a poem ever finished?

The Mystery of an Unopened Box

When you move
to a new location
you stare at it
as at an unopened box.

All your changes
up till now lie across
your body, the zebra
stripes of your life, each with
its corners and turns, feathery
edges, some

elongated tapers
with the elegance of fingers
across familiar string
and fret, others
squat and fat,
nubbed keloid regrets,
missing buttons
from your shirt.

Like your preaching
eyebrows on your face, or
the flaring keyholes
of your mother’s nostrils,
it is still your

face, just as it is
your box after all
that you will open
even though there are
traces of us others
and your own past
contained in it. They are your

nostrils open to their key—
the fragrance of each
fear, every engineering
angel’s highwayed labyrinth
that rises and
drops again over the velvet
hills, where

like a Joshua tree
waits, arms lifted
for rain
that will most definitely fall
as the sky opens
onto the dusty floor
of a desert valley.



Eric 'Bubba' Alder said...

Pandora wondered about an unopened box... see what happened to her? (LOL!)

As a Michigander, I'm curious which little town (or towns) you lived in way back when.

Maureen said...

This is delightful, Ruth. Every new place to which one moves is like a box waiting to be opened. Sometimes, the lid goes up and one finds the nicest neighbors, their own doors open and welcoming; other times, as my son might point out, it might be a roach, or the drip of a leaky roof, or signs, alas, of a break-in.

Since graduating last May, my son has lived in at least six different places in New York City. I'm hoping the new place to which he's just moved will be his last for a while.

I love the boxes you show here. What a source of inspiration I imagine them to be.

有力 said...

Lovely. As a fellow wanderer, I understand.

Brendan said...

Always this question: Where do you end and I begin? Just when in the poem did I take possession of it, read it in my voice, taking the work over that you've begun? All literature iis intertextual, don't you think? Your next expression that sits on many shoulders below, of things you created, things you read. What all this has to do with a poem about going through the next door, I'm not sure -- remember, I can't tell where you end and I begin: But you have handed me this conversation piece of a box that has rich and resonant presence--like a reliqury-- odd with so much personal history that is oddly collective in its strangeness, as if we all encounter the box the same way, with some similar note of expectation. Or think we do, in the music between the lines. What's yours to deliver wholly on your own comes early and stays late, from the "zebra stripes" with the "feathery edges" to the "nubbed keloid regrets" (wowza) to the opening of the box signified by a sky emptying its contents on a desert floor. I'll take over from there, thank you for bringing me here. - Brendan

Old 333 said...

Very nice, Ruth. I quite liked "flaring keyholes". Thanks for sharing this!

who said...

You are definitely one of the most talented poets I've ever read. And it's really cool to see your posts go up, sometimes exactly as the thoughts come out of your mind. I like reading them this way as apposed to as finished as they'll ever get, refined and typeset stamped into the pages of publication. I've never seen diagonal words written out in horizontal lines so that the two languages match.

Like the poem being very oblique, but only for one way to define. Oblique by another understanding of the term, like a 45 degree angle or yet another understanding where it describes grammar, then to me it is layered with numerous shades of obliquity.

I always squint after of read words in the traditional way. When words are single spaced and I squint I can see what the Arabic, Esperanto or Braille says in the empty spaces. It shows up like cursive handwriting stretching from corner to corner of the page.

But I have never read any writing where all the unconscious languages that appear as invisible communication, repeat the same message as the original, traditional conscious words horizontally written

pretty amazing work Ruthi

Ruth said...

Hi, Bubba, ah, so you are curious like Pandora. :-) I lived in Grand Ledge from the day I was born until I went off to college. The town up north for fifth grade was Lakeview, on M-46, and we lived next door to a Heinz pickle factory.

Ruth said...

Maureen, that's a lot of moves for your son. It begins to take its toll. A certain amount of moving is good for the soul, waking me up to new things about myself. Thanks, and yeah, I do feel inspired by boxes and their possible uses, and how beautiful they can be. I bought several that are stacked and waiting for decoupage, but not these three, obviously, two of which are inherited, and the beaded one was a gift.

Ruth said...

Welcome, 有力, and thank you. For the 'first half' of my life, I got restless quickly and wanted change. I don't feel it so much now.

Ruth said...

Brendan, the 'early' and the 'late' is maybe before and after, the eternality of human experience. I wonder if eternality is not only about time, but about space, boundaries, edges, skin, all the ways we think of 'the other' (thou) as separate, but in eternity, there is no separation. One of my favorite images is the illustration Norman Rockwell painted of himself in front of an easel, painting a self portrait, looking in the mirror, with clippings on the edge of the canvas of self portraits by Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh . . . the infinity of self, the infinite storeys/stories layered like cities built upon one another. I keep looking for I, and it's why I keep going back to read you. What will I learn of myself? What will it inspire me to excavate. Truly. This is the best kind of mind-heart Pilates, elongating the work's pages!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Peter. There is something about that keyhole, and what can go in, and what can come out, that is evocative to me.

Ruth said...

Dusti, you are cool. I think of Being Dusti Who and wonder how that would feel, to see those slanted patterns of language and play with it, finding connections, walls, plugs, electrical currents. Thank you for your very nice praise, which means a lot to me, you know.

Barb said...

I read the poem several times, Ruth. I feel at its core the physical being is dealing with spiritual challenges perhaps brought on by change of place. The mention of Joshua Tree reminds me of dry Western landscapes but the "velvet hills" sends me an image of lush greenery. There is much to digest in this poem. I love your box collection.

Terresa said...

Ruth, there are deserts in this! (If you have any family moving westward and would like some west-coasty advice, email me!) :)

Loved your poem, zebra stripes, keyholes and all.

PS: Where I live, we wait for rain year round and when it comes, we dance.

The Solitary Walker said...

You boxed clever with this, Ruth, and didn't box yourself in. Great package!

Montag said...

It reminds me of Pandora, she who comes with gifts. (I do not know why she got such a bad rap... a misogynistic story about curiosity {Pandora's Box} mixed up with the theme of the nurturing Mother Earth is pretty odd. Perhaps it was thought of during famines and droughts.)

Anyway..... your forebears seem to bristle with ferocious mystery to a child's eye.
(email hacked, as you are aware. working on it when able.)

Ruth said...

Barb, thanks so much for spending time with this poem. I had southern California in mind when writing this, which is where our son is moving. The cultivated, rolling foothills of that area can be lush, and then yes, so close the desert spreads out.

Ruth said...

Terresa, thank you for the offer of westerly advice! Peter has gone back to the place of his birth, L.A. We lived there 5 years, it seems like a lifetime ago. Thank you for your attentions to my poem. This is quite a journey we're on.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Robert. Funny what we can see in these inanimate objects, isn't it?

Ruth said...

Yeah, Montag, she was the golden child, and then she's blamed for releasing all that evil (sorta like the bitten apple).

I hope your email hack job gets straightened out, and that your father is doing OK.

Ginnie said...

This on the day I hear Lesley and Brian are moving back to Michigan! No wonder your mind is wandering all over the place, sister. :) I'd be so giddy with excitement that any poem I'd dare write would make nothing like the sense this one makes. Just carry on. You deserve all of it.

Shari Sunday said...

Beautiful boxes. Moving shakes you to the roots sometimes and makes you take a new look at your life.

Marinela said...

Loved your creative work here, well done!
Poverty Poems

Shaista said...

Oh Yoda, you are too much. Your poetry is so... like a tree, and I the bird leaping happily from branch to branch, hopping back and forth across lines, because every line is an important branch of that tree. In any order.

I think Rilke would have just loved to have known you! Letters to a Young Poet Called Ruth would have been a Very Different Book!!!

Dear Ruth,
Er... I love you? Marry me?


Loring Wirbel said...

I'm going to share this with a friend moving to Vancouver. Beautiful, and not obscure or cryptic in the slightest.

George said...

"...hope like a Joshua tree waits, arms lifted for rain. . . " That does it for me. I will try to remember those words and your sentiments as I make my own moves in the coming year. The quoted line reminds me of the wonderful opening lines of Eliot's "Geronition." "Here I am, an old man in a dry month, being read to by a boy, waiting for rain."

Amy@Souldipper said...

I moved many times in my life as well - across my country, but never to another country. The anticipation thrilled me each time. Each time, I'd forget the desert until I was sitting in the middle of it, accompanied by a parched container full of questions demanding release.

Ruth said...

Boots, I'm over the moon! But I'll try to stay grounded and make some sort of sense!

Ruth said...

Shari, I think young people should move away from home after college (or before) for at least a while to learn something about themselves.

Ruth said...

Marinela, thank you, and welcome!

Ruth said...

Shaista, you never fail to delight, spraying color like wildflowers wherever you pass. As for our beloved Rainer, he did write Letters to a Young Poet to me, it was one of my first 'text' books when I started to write, and believe me, I have needed every word. And you know, in some way I think I have married him, and we will not be living in separate countries!

(You know his daughter was 'Ruth', yes?)


Ruth said...

Loring, good, I'm relieved this poem is clear to you. I love that you will share this with your moving friend. And Vancouver? Inge and I were just talking about wishing we could live in Vancouver after she got back from a week's conference there. Such a beautiful box to open! Great to 'see' you.

Ruth said...

Dear George, I'll picture you (and pray) like the Joshua tree as you make preparations and move. I love that. And I love the Eliot quote. How can just a few words contain so very much, like a tiny box full of promise?

Ruth said...

Amy, it must be our human instincts that lend us excitement for a move, like a rush of adrenalin, to keep us alive and open to everything new. Then real life sets in gradually, and we must live with things as they are, not just as we hope them to be. But I love how we can recreate ourselves in some ways, with a move.

Susan said...

I love how you are there at the ready to help in any way you can, but leaving them to discover the wonders of a new place on their own. To discover the new places in themselves.

We moved 8 times in the first 5 years of our marriage, but nowhere as exciting as Turkey, or even California! :)

Arti said...

And when is a poem ever finished being read? There are so much to savor in your poem, Ruth, they are so rich in metaphors and meaning, of course, much more for you the poet and your intended reader, your children. But we as observer of your intimate family relations can enjoy now that you've shared it with us. The Joshua Tree stands out for me because I remember my first encounter of it was in reading the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Here's the memorable line: "It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty."

ds said...

Brilliant. Nesting boxes, and the largest one the sky...the whole world open to them.
Thank you.

Jeanie said...

Oh, Ruth -- your poem is so thoughtful, beautiful and eloquent -- as always. My favorite word when I read your work. And as it has a bit of a resonance for you, you know why it does for me as well.

Sandy said...

This is a gorgeous poem and I too collect boxes. I love boxes and they have always felt magical to me. before my granddaughters visits, I fill them with treasures (thrift store jewelry). even the grandboys get surprises in the boxes at times.

I just had another granddaughter born on June 20. Chloe Autumn, up to eight kids now.