The obese woman who used to wake up
our whole house by starting her Subaru at 6 a.m.
has committed suicide. Snow
hangs like a set of unlaundered sheets
in the windows. When I walked into
her seventh floor studio, the standard lamp
was still on, but could only light itself,
refusing to interfere with the dull dusk
of the interior the police had already searched.
For the first time, I felt an urge to look at her face
and perhaps to see something more distinctly
than the triviality of neighborhood permits
and the mystery of suicide allows,
but her features were shut down without offense.
I only remember a chair missing its rear legs,
shoved up against the wall for balance.
Noise, feeling, light – touch is central to being heard and being seen. But if there was a touch, it was cold, dirty; sheets hanging from a window remind of making a rope to escape. The disgusting feel the image puts in our mouth is the beginning of the moral center of this poem – is our speaker disgusted with this woman, or herself? Whose dirty laundry includes a silent abuse?
We move up with our speaker. A studio is only one room; “standard lamp” and “dull dusk” make it clear this was a prison. The light that is on will go out too; the “dull dusk” will encompass everything and this life will be forgotten, white or gray. Our speaker’s memory will fade just like the police’s – none of this has any consequence other than for filing a report.
Our senses tell us nothing if wrongly directed. So our speaker wants to see face-to-face. We’ve moved from at rest (“wake up,” “neighborhood”), upwards, and now towards. There should be a revelation – something should be “distinct.” Isn’t suicide a “mystery?” Something to be solved, an invite into one’s life?
That’s just it – you don’t really kill yourself to be remembered. Maybe some people do, but it’s not thought through well at all. And there is no mystery, moreover, when you look “for the first time:” the “first time” is more a revelation than an opening. All thinking is rethinking; all love is when something must be sacrificed, not just had. If there was to be something seen distinctly, this would have to at least be a second time.
The “triviality of neighborhood” is the real mystery, the most brutal indictment – the suicide was right, this wasn’t worth living in. What kind of world do we live in where the people right next door are “trivial?” It’s not even conceivable when thought through properly. We can now move on to jeremiads against modern life, but our speaker has the most fitting image.
To “shut down without offense” is what we can do to another at any moment: we can make their lives hell merely by not showing any concern. It’s kind of like keeping things around past their use; we think we’re doing a favor, but even hatred towards the object might be kinder. It only stands there as a testament to our inability to use, our inability to appreciate.
Our speaker has moved toward and found motion fruitless, yet has no place to rest. The most damning indictment of society will be forgotten otherwise: we’ve taught everyone everything except to watch out for each other. And we have no rest as readers, too. What is peculiar about the poem is the narration. It creates an internal audience distinct from the speaker. The generic “our,” “studio,” “neighborhood” – this could be any time or place. The internal audience is marked by how strangely close it is to an external audience – up, towards, and now face-to-face.