Monday, February 27, 2006

Poem of the Week 2/27/2006: Liquid Paper

Liquid Paper

Smooth as a snail this little parson
pardons our sins Touch the brush tip
lightly and abracadabra a clean slate

We know those who blot their brains
by sniffing it which shows
it erases more than ink
and with imagination anything
can be misapplied . . . In the army
our topsergeant drank aftershave squeezing
my Old Spice to the last slow drop

It worked like Liquid Paper in his head

until he'd glide across the streets of Heidelberg
hunting for the house in Boise Idaho
where he was born . . . If I were God
I'd authorize Celestial Liquid Paper
every seven years to whiten our mistakes:
we should be sorry and live with what we've done
but seven years is long enough and all of us

deserve a visit now and then
to the house where we were born
before everything got written so far wrong

Peter Meinke 2003

This poem mixes sadness and love, shock and whimsy, and aurally leads us every-which-way in its presentation of compassion. Its music is astounding; I highly encourage you to read it out loud to yourself, or at least pay attention when you are reading it quietly. Slam poetry seems to have informed it in cleverness, cadence and structure. Slam often tweaks a word or common phrase (herein, Meinke changes "with imagination anything is possible" to "with imagination anything can be misapplied"). Like "Liquid Paper," slam communicates form through alliteration, rhythm (not just end-rhyme, which is an old, used form, if that makes sense), volume, and pauses; on one level, the white, blank spaces on the page recall these gaps. On another, as my friend Dustin pointed out, they are like little whited-out spaces on their own, perhaps suggesting that the poet himself has been blessed with liquid paper.

Reading this poem several times will cast the first stanza differently. Read lightly, the image of a snail creeping across the page is sweet and whimsical, it being amusing to think of the squat Liquid Paper bottle as the plump priest come to redeem us. With a measure of sobriety, however, it turns into a quiet miracle-worker; "sins" conveys a moral flaw, something important and guilt-worthy. Then, too, the repition of the S sound in "smooth," "snail," "sins," and "slate," the P sound in "parson" and "pardon," and T sound in "touch" and "tip" add an aural intensity that oversteps the fanciful opening images. This edge hints at the next stanza's darkness.

Other than its rhetorical techniques, this section is clear, if somber. Meinke touches on the human capability to distort and destroy. Taken with the white-out's previous association with a parson, this capability appears more sinister; things that were light and amusing in the first stanza are suddenly fragile, corruptible. Humans can thus turn aftershave from something to save us from the horrors of stinging skin or smelling bad to something that saves us from the horrors of war. This leap from the micro to the macro is one of Meinke's most effective strategies. He funnels despair into everyday things. The consonance (repeated consonant sounds) in the final lines literally evoke what it is to be squeezed, pressed, compacted, drained.

Thus, the next line's slowness stops us in our tracks. The breaks between two and three-word groups slow the reading to a crawl, forcing us to think about what it is to have one's memories erased. The toxic smell of white out comes to mind, suggested by the earlier allusion to drug abuse.

1 comment:

d said...

You know, I ate ice cream for dinner with your mother and mine at Dairy Queen. Delicious.

I love the title, liquid paper. You can just roll that around on your tongue over and over, kind of like cellar door.