SOFFWANA YASMIN ON THE THORN ROSARY
Soffwana Yasmin, a student at CUNY NY, wrote an English paper on two poems including “Jade” from Eileen R. Tabios’ THE THORN ROSARY:SELECTED PROSE POEMS AND NEW (1998-2010). We thank Soffwana for permission to print her paper:
Unexpected bad experiences have a way of teaching us something in the end. Both poets Eileen R. Tabios and Hayan Charara utilize this learned experience in their works “Jade” and “Job Interview” respectively. And although both poets are relatively new their works speak for themselves. The subjects of their poems have experiences that have a negative impact on them, and through their shared experience gain a new perspective on life. Both poems are very similar because of this experience yet so very different, as one ends with a wary outlook on life and the other as a closure to a bad experience.
According to Tabios: “Poems may be written in a variety of ways, and I don't privilege any one approach over others . . . . However, I have found certain advantages to letting the poem stew internally before it comes out of its own volition as fully-embodied. This method helps me to maintain the energy of that initial impetus that would birth a poem.” ("Maganda") From the very start Tabios writes without a set path in mind. Thus, it can be interpreted without censor. According to Tabios no interpretation is wrong, and it can be visibly seen in “Jade” as each stanza significantly differs from one another. Her poem seems like a schizophrenic retelling of a story, with a different ambience of each personality varying from stanza to stanza, and finally closing with a chaotic convergence with the last sentence. As for imagery, her poem can also be likened to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” The colors and moods change from each room, steadily darkening to a foreshadowing somber tone in Poe’s poem. In Tabios' poem each stanza changes and foreshadow a bitter end.
Tabios introduces her poem on a lighter romantic note in her first stanza:
“I can see how I’ve misinterpreted the fall of night. Against a Grecian Urn, shadows sunder. The clay is ageless and I ache to press my forehead against it. Once, I stopped a burn on my fingertips by peeling a grape. I forced perfection on its nakedness. (23)
While it seems like a jumbled assembly of randomly linked sentences, it is not as it appears. Tabios uses an unique technique of writing that does not make sense singularity but as an entire stanza. As a whole, what she is saying is that she misunderstood the sensuality of the night, because even shadows reflecting on the beautiful sheens on urns can be romantic and as it ”sunder[s]” it breaks apart and immerses the area like the broken pieces of a mirror. The “clay” can be a trope for earth where sensual acts taking place have been there since the dawn of time, and in the throes of passion after gaining a new found clarity she finds herself aching to be a part of what the earth represents. She then compares her clarity from intercourse to an act of peeling a grape, her warm dry fingers find relief in the wet smooth skin of the grape.
In her second stanza she seems to foreshadow her bitter ending:
It is so difficult to find innocence in accomplished men. There is always something to be paid. Once, someone asked for my views on fidelity. Upon confirming the questioner was not discussing radio waves, I nodded and proclaimed with gusto, “Sexual fidelity is an admirable trait. I believe all my lovers should possess it.” (23)
The very first sentence has an odd tone to it, especially when the word “innocence” is introduced. There is nothing innocent in the cutthroat world of a businessman, even less so in a successful one’s. This idea is further proven in the second sentence where the word “paid” is mentioned, meaning there is nothing free in life. She then moves onto the strange topic of fidelity after an odd joking off topic, then states the obvious “with gusto”. She makes a hypocritical statement that she strongly supports it in others while alluding to having multiple partners.
Tabios steadily adopts a darker tone in the third stanza:
I never show my scars, though allow an occasional easing of the pressure with a flushed countenance. My favorite stone is jade for the impassivity of its face. Perhaps I will meet an optical illusion that is solid. That would surprise me like a boulder sporting a black, bowler hat. (23)
She reveals her deep insecurities about herself, which is only rarely able to elevate. She then confesses her favorite stone, jade, which comes in many colors that seem to have cracks in them. Here she’s both comparing how broken she feels inside because of her “scars” and at the same time admitting to wanting to feel better because jade has healing properties in them. She further alludes to her depression in the last two lines in the stanza when she states that she can’t picture ever feeling better because like an optical illusion is a mirage and might look just out of reach but in reality was never truly there and can never be “solid.”
Finally in the last stanza she brings it all together into a setting:
My friends are astounded at my naivete. I met a man attending a party without his wife. I was the only one who believed there was no foretelling. But I remember when I, too, paid attention to symbols. I can’t recall the beginning of when I stopped. And I no longer believe in the humility of monks.” (23)
The first sentence represents the “misinterpretation”, the second one represents infidelity of “accomplished men”, and the third one represents the fruition brought on by her insecurities. All three sentences bring forth something from each of the first three stanzas, which then all come together to form the “symbol” in the following sentence. Because of the flaws presented in each of the previous stanzas she comes to realize that somewhere along the way she has forgotten to be wary of certain aspects of life. Thus she is now jaded and no longer trusts in simple fidelity. Such is implied when one is a “monk”, and everything that falls under its banner.
Similarly Charara also utilizes Tabios’ schizophrenic non-linear tone, and while seeming a bit more indifferent and no definitive stanzas, still has an outcome with a jaded view caused by a bad experience. Critic Arden Eli Hill describes Charara’s work as: “an intensely personal collection in which the poet intimately relates to the ‘others’ through examining grief and joy in himself and his family members.” (Sadness of Others) “Job Interview” is a heavily semi-impassive pessimistic recalling of the male subject’s life in the past five years. But unlike Tabios’s poem Charara’s involves a series of unfortunate events surrounding a man.
The poem begins through the setting of an informal interview, and a vital question being asked:
He drew a line across the page
and asked where I expected to be
five years from here. Honestly,
I had no clue. And I can admit now,
without shame or remorse, that it’s always been easier
for me to go back. (26)
‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ Just from this simple yet life altering question the man finds himself stumped. Then reveals one of his flaws, that he prefers to relive the past. What does say about a man in an interview, no matter how informal, who when asked a very important question goes into a dream-like state reliving the past in his mind? Rather than move forward, he finds himself frozen in time not knowing how to move forward.
Then in a series of scattered flashbacks going chronologically, he reveals certain major events in the past five years:
I was still young five years ago,
drank more, smoked less,
had significantly more teeth.
Yes my first wife had left me
for a man with a thin nose,
and there was also my mother.
Could I admit that when she stopped
visiting my dreams, I gave up
on the future and because of this
was sleeping much better? (26)
He mentions three major events. The first was about his health and physical body, it seems he traded in drinking for smoking and lost more than a few teeth along the way. The second major event was his wife leaving him. He tries to console himself by criticizing the physical flaws of the man she left him for. And the final event was his mother finally passing away, and long with her it seems so went his aspiration for the future. She had a negative impact on his self esteem and after her death a great burden was lifted and afterwards he could sleep better He wonders if there is a connection between the two.
In the next few lines he appears to be closer to the waking world:
I wondered if it mattered whether
the downpour would come,
which it did, or that we sat
with our hands folded at a table
that would outlast us both. (26)
He is more somber and melancholy when he question the weather outside. The “whether” could be a pun on “weather” and also a trope for a foreshadowing of his future. As he describes his setting in more detail, it seems like him and daydreams, so is he and his interviewer a part and at the same time separate from the outside world.
He is finally brought back to reality in the final few lines:
He asked me once more.
As he stared past me, I breathed
deeply and tried not to blink.
And a grin broke across his face,
like a crack in the sidewalk
patiently waiting for someone
to stumble and fall. (26)
The poem ends with the very question it began with: ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’. And still he is left stumped, not knowing the answer and left to flounder. Worse it seems like he is the butt of the universe’s joke when even the interviewer grins knowingly, as if he already knows he is going to fail and just waiting for the last fall.
Both poems speak of learning from bad experiences, or more specifically being forced to. Both poems have a somber tone and steadily grow darker as the poem progresses. And both poems have an ending where the subjects of the poems are left jaded. However, while Tabios’s poem simply has the issue of fidelity over love, Charara’s poem has so many issues that on the only way cover them all is to banner them under life in general. Another key difference is that while in “Jade” the subject is left jaded she still found closure, while in “Job Interview” the man also jaded is left to flounder lost unknowing of the future.
Tabios, Eileen. "Maganda: thoughts on poetic form (a hermetic perspective)." MELUS 29.1 (2004): 137+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.
Hill, Arden Eli. "The Sadness of Others." Hollins Critic 44.1
: 21. Artemis Literary Sources. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
Charara, Hayan. “Job Interview.” The Sadness of Others.
Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon UP, 2006. 26. Print.
Tabios, Eileen R. “Jade” Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole.
23. New York: Marsh Hawk, 2002. Print.