by Carrie Etter
Forced to apologise
for the dirty sheets, he looks
proud in his shame.
I left that bed years ago
and have returned to collect
a forgotten book, a favourite blanket.
He knew the names of trees better
than makes of cars, but neither well.
He remembers which sister
I like least and asks
how she is doing.
First off, this poem is found in the latest issue of the British Council-sponsored New Writing series, this year’s New Writing 14. Actually, the poet Carrie Etter is American, but if you live and work in England – or anywhere among the countries under the Commonwealth - you are eligible to send your work to the New Writing project. As it is, she teaches creative writing in Bath Spa University, working there as an Associate Lecturer.
As I’m writing this I’ve completed reading through a third of NW14. No, you won’t be able to get this book in Kino or in any bookshop in KL now – I already booked a copy months back, and last I checked, last week or so, the bookshop didn’t stock it yet. How is it I’m reading it? I got a free copy from the British Council, KL, about two weeks back, as one of the first 20 winners of a little contest (Answer this and be the one of the 1st 20 people to get a free copy).
At this time, I still haven’t chosen poem to post in here. Incidentally, I’ve just finished the short story section of the book, and the next one is poems. I have quickly gone through those pages, and I stopped to read Divorce – that’s it, then, I found the poem to write about.
I really like this poem, because I’m looking for a short poem to work on, and it is actually the type or style of poem I myself would aspire to write: something not too long, with spare but telling details. Carrie doesn’t tell you what is going on in this divorce; she’s showing you.
Divorce is a short piece but is so very leaden with tension and conflict. The first three lines show a conflict of emotions here : he is ashamed and also proud of the dirty sheets. But why apologise anymore if he’s already divorced? Then, she’s saying she’s left his bed years ago. Conflict again: but why is she back after all these years, just to retrieve some “forgotten book, a favourite blanket”?
Notice the mirroring of these pair of items is foregrounded for us by the initial sounds from the “f” and “b” consonants (even if the first “f” sound is inside a non-stress syllable). Is this implying that he and she are still a pair, a couple, albeit in conflict? Or implying that she is still drawn to him, as from some force of habit? Could this paired items be symbolic of a kind of recurrence, of old habits, of some wont?: he cheated on her in their bed once, and now he is sort-of doing that again.
And what in the world is she doing being that close to his bed? The lines “He knew the names …of cars, but neither well.”: conflict – he knew, not know, these things but really he didn’t that well. Tension here: in the last three lines we can imagine him, now, goading her on by asking – probably very casually, very unaffectedly - after a sister of hers, whom she likes the least. The alliteration in “like least” tells loads about this sister. A very good guess what kind of relationship this sister had – or has - with the husband.