Maggie Glover, “In West Virginia”

Thanks to Catherine Rogers for her thoughts.

In West Virginia (from failbetter.com)
Maggie Glover

Each morning was a fresh, blue breakdown.
I perfected my skills of isolation among those hills,
the splash back of creeks and muddied snow drifts.
I had enough money, but not enough money. I learned
the word “holler” and made friends with a boy who was born into one,
his pin-cushion eyes haunted by whatever took longer than it should,
which was everything. On the worst nights, he drove alone
on the back roads, ashing cigarettes into an empty can,
swerving back and forth to avoid the whitetails and turtles.
I made difficult choices. We kept in touch.

Comment:

“Breakdown:” the day before is deconstructed, the new day will be a reconstruction of self. How to best stay isolated? By continually changing who one is. “Splash back of creeks and muddied snow drifts” reflect that character. Water flows except in a specific season where it hardens. There is no fixed and final form.

Does this lead to the “I had enough money, but not enough money” problem? Maybe. One may demand more in flux. “I perfected” / “I had” / “I learned” / “I made:” there’s a progression where what is had in isolation is tested, made concrete (perfected/learned, had/made). What caused the change? A specific type of boy, who worried and wondered about the world. Yeah, he had money. It wasn’t ultimately important.

What really mattered was his strange innocence. He doesn’t sound like the type that could do much for himself. But that isn’t as simple as being spoiled. The truth is probably that he senses – but does not actively recognize – what isolation is. Money doesn’t mean you have a place to spend it. A girl doesn’t mean you’ve found the best friend you could possibly have. Our speaker embraced that isolation, and it made her stronger, albeit in a limited way. This gentleman’s self-destructive tendencies go hand-in-hand with a respect for life. Life is the possibility there’s something better out there.

Some kind of making, formation, had to happen. He had a part in it. What you need for a relationship is very different from what allows for self-realization. But the latter is crucial to anything healthy.

2 Comments

  1. What a brilliant, little poem and your ‘breakdown’ of it is illuminating.

    I love the way the speaker turns the line “enough money”, examining it like a stone in her hand. Has she had a breakdown or is she breaking down her life to its essentials? Has she had enough or does she have enough? The poem seems to invite us to investigate her words, our words, her attitudes, our attitudes, a little closer.

    Like “holler”. Does it carry a special meaning in West Virginia? What does “holler” really mean? Cry, shout, but also valley, hollow, the hollow of the space we occupy? The speaker seems to contrast herself with the boy, who is less (neurotically?) reflective, he was born into his space, moves around in it, content with what just is (everything takes longer than it should, which is a blessing) until it’s gone (“ashes”, “empty can”).

    My reading is that the speaker ultimately, by his example, finds her space. She makes the difficult choices she initially ran away from. Typical of the ambivalance within the poem, these difficult choices can just as much mean that it wasn’t easy to ‘break up’ with the boy.

    A lot double meanings which just reinforce the feeling that life isn’t that clear-cut and we have to find a certain peace with the space we occupy. Lovely.

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