Monday, February 21, 2005

Poem of the Week 2/21/2005: A Martian Sends A Postcard Home

A Martian Sends A Postcard Home

Caxtons* are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings --

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T** is a room with the lock inside --
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone's pain has a different smell.

At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves --
in colour, with their eyelids shut.

Craig Raine

*i.e. books, which William Caxton (ca. 1422-1491) was the first to print in English
**i.e. automobiles

This poem feels right for tonight. And yes I am getting impatient about the poem of the week - sending it out on what is technically monday but is really Sunday's last gasp. But anyway. This poem is interesting and twisted and sort of beautiful. It's funny and fascinating, and a little sad at the end. Maybe what's appealing about it right now is that I am seeing myself reflected in it - this Martian doesn't know exactly what everything is around him, but he is lacing the best words and ideas he can to it. I particularly enjoy the idea of a cat as an apparatus. I also love that Raine asks us to think about the things around us, and notice what is going on with the colors when it rains. And, for that matter, who is this Martian? Why does he understand what it means to read, in one sense, at the end of the poem and not at the beginning? What does this say about our values/skills? Is it just a matter of his not knowing the right word? I think that imagination is very important in this poem both in the images it presents and as a topic the alien broaches. So I hope that you like this poem for this week!!


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