I’ve Opted for a Heart This Mid-November Morn (from Big Bridge)
How to find ivory’s antecedent among these drifts of snow,
restore the clover to its buried frozen form?
And what about
the girl with loneliness, her lush medium dressed in birds?
Inside the dress embraces a range of mercurial gazes,
an advanced degree in gleaning eyes
from the wrist that turns the curves into contagious angles.
It is hard not to die, and yet here, the singer and sewer, one,
stitch a voice into the actual road. We ambulate each alone,
pressing stuffed figures to our chests, wailing silence
for a warmer bosom feathered, opposite our own.
The speaker wants to find an origin for spring within winter. It does exist. Under all the cold and snow, a “buried frozen form” can take root. It still sounds cynical, lost, not quite right. “Ivory’s antecedent” suggests a purity, a whiteness, so powerful it is generative (“restore the clover to its buried frozen form”). Of course, what is generated isn’t quite the same as the clover we see everyday: our speaker is hurting, and thus knows what she wants and knows she doesn’t really want it and perhaps doesn’t know what she wants. Luck (“clover”) that would never change isn’t really luck, but she seems to be thinking persistence alone in the “search” will end pain. She would have to dig beneath the snowdrifts and then dig some more, or wander among the icy landscape until something became visible. None of this sounds terribly fruitful.
So the search changes to looking at herself from another perspective, as if she has in a way the spring she wants. She considers “the girl with loneliness” with a “lush medium dressed in birds.” “Her lush medium” is ambiguous. It could mean others see “the girl with loneliness” through something “dressed in birds,” or that she (“the girl”) sees the entirety of the world “dressed in birds.” If both viewers and the viewed are confined to the “lush medium,” the question that opened this poem has been restated. The sameness of purity and “drifts of snow” is a matter of everyone’s perspective, trapping this girl no matter what. Coldness, then, can be identified with the “lush,” strangely enough. There is this difference: the problem with coldness, an icy world, is it being static, the same, having no life; “lush” implies growth, teeming, too much of the world. How can metaphors that are so different be reconciled? The speaker is actually locating the problem; it has something to do with control over sight. Even if we think we’re seeing correctly, what we view can fly in such a way that it maintains a controlling distance.
We see the controlling distance at work in the dress itself. “Mercurial gazes” almost turn this girl into an object. Purity may not exist, but lust doesn’t satisfy: it marks one as disposable (“gleaning;” those interested in you are fevered – “contagious”). “Degree,” “wrist,” “angles” all suggest suicide more than geometry, but the dress contains a multitude of perspectives. The problem of sight is now the speaker’s to use. She’s been wearing it, birdlike, the whole time.
Thus, the singer (“birds”) and the sewer (“dress”) don’t just represent scattered hopes. They also reflect our speaker’s – the girl’s – strength. She wants what makes purity important; she can make her narrative describe what others are going through. She doesn’t hate love, or being loved: she knows what purity is for, that flying away together isn’t wrong.
We have to start somewhere, though. No more staying still, making oneself an object inadvertently. All of us, including her, have to learn to walk alone. In doing so, we recall our childhood a new way: we’re not sleeping with teddy bears, but rather keeping a memory of what is dearest to us. We do look backward, to an origin, not just see the stares of the lustful or trap ourselves in our desires. That memory we know is inanimate and imperfect. But we still wait, even while in motion, because we know love exists. There is a flight somewhere in here.
Maybe the difference between the adolescent and adult heart is that the existence of the adult heart depends on others: we must reach out and be reached out to, take a risk that can lead to loneliness. The imagination alone – both our own and others’ – is an invitation to disaster.