George Szirtes, “Tritina”

Tritina (from The Rotary Dial)
George Szirtes

Every morning they waited for the postman.
They talked and fretted, or would go for a walk,
examine their nails or fetch something from the cupboard.

Even when there was nothing in the cupboard
it filled the time between rising and the postman
whose steps they listened for, recognizing his walk

on the gravel drive. There was nothing but the postman.
There was always the waiting, and the long walk
up the hill. There was always the talking and the cupboard,

as if the postman could walk straight through the cupboard.

Comment:

At least for me, the drama is in the ambiguity of the details. “Every morning they waited for the postman:” who waited? Were they together? Were they separate? What exactly do they want?

We don’t know any of this. All we can sense is an anticipation that commands. “They” – maybe we – are dependent on it daily. The talking and fretting, going for a walk, examining nails, fetching things from the cupboard – all of this isn’t just frustration. It’s a routine which they actually want, one defining life.

It’s strange to say that. What if the postman delivers something which ends the routine? Isn’t all that’s missing for these people some kind of satisfaction? I don’t think the poem allows such a resolution: “There was nothing but the postman.” One can say I’m taking this out of context, as that is how it felt while these people waited. The whole poem is in the past; the sentiment animating it has disappeared. Of course the postman could give these people their deliverance! It’s just that he isn’t doing so at the time this poem presents.

Or he’s giving something unsatisfactory, perhaps because the desires of the recipients are malformed. Which brings us to my original point, that the frustration is not a mere side product of what they want. “Talked and fretted” is an attempt at human interaction. It fails. Going for a walk corresponds to trying to leave the situation. It fails. Looking at one’s nails? This is just passing time. That fails too. And fetching something from the sometimes empty cupboard attempts to substitute whatever the cupboard holds with what the postman brings. Again, a failure.

What the postman represents is fulfilling human interaction. What he needs to bring can take the place of others, our continual searching and scrutinizing, and even our material wants. The thing is that completely fulfilling human interaction is impossible. We don’t just take another in like we do oxygen or a steak. We’re at a distance from everyone, so much so that sometimes the best thing we can do for another is fight with them or stop communicating entirely. We see the outlines of a love poem, perhaps. One could imagine this poem being about a couple that had kids. Not seeing each other as anything but the necessity of daily existence, they’re hoping to hear back from their progeny. Even if they do, nothing is going to be good enough, and not for the simple reason that a lot of parents are crabby when older.

Again, the frustration is one that’s wanted. Unless communication occurs that makes the unreal real, nothing will satisfy. Just like steps can be heard which indicate exactly what is going on, the arrival of a true letter is the making of a new day (“long walk up the hill”). The postman walking straight through the cupboard encapsulates this logic. One wants to know another can be part of them literally, and is not content to merely hear. Nothing less than complete unity will suffice.