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R. Nemo Hill 09-08-2019 12:30 PM



It was one of those forbidden things,
foreign, fragile—and many times my age.
“It was hand-carved from the bones of kings,”
yet sprang to life beneath my guileless gaze.
It was pure stillness and pure pilgrimage.
It was part precious heirloom and part riddle.
It was a snapshot, in ivory, of travel and of trade—
and if raised to your eye, you could stare right through its middle.

“Put that down!”
........................One mustn’t touch.
But one did, of course, whenever one was alone.
Adventure involved such betrayals of trust—
the rebel hand outstretched towards the unknown,
things near, things dear, all overthrown
for the sake of the launch of this congested cage of a boat,
this overcrowded catacomb
which only a child’s wild eye could set afloat.

I could scarcely count the figures, bearded,
all hard at work, most of them in pairs.
When my grip became their sea, I feared it
might tip them from their tiny flights of stairs
and wash them, voiceless, unprepared
to what was once more just a waveless floor.
The wreck replaced, I offered prayers,
and pocketing smaller pieces, swam for shore.

It’s one of those imported things,
a cartoon history of toil in illicit tusk
“…found in a nest of silver rings
in a backroom bazaar in Manila, all covered in dust.”

It’s a formerly wonderstruck husk
from whose hollow I’ve cleared all spider’s nest debris
with a sharpened pencil. Beneath time’s crust,
eye to former eye, I set to sea.


last line of S2 was wild child's eye

RCL 09-08-2019 05:11 PM

An unreconstructed literalist, I see this: A carved ivory replica of a Chinese junk (considered junk) animated in the creative imagination of a youngster observing its details. With rich poetic implications. In those terms it works fine for me.

Erik Olson 09-08-2019 06:56 PM


I suspected the speaker was referencing his youth from the first two verses, which ‘guileless gaze’ confirmed for me. The rhythm of this line—‘and if raised to your eye, you could stare right through its middle’—seemed to lose the meter and did. The effect did not strike me as particularly for the better, but then again, that may well be only my own poetic speaking.

As for the following line, adventure gave me some pause—
Adventure involved such betrayals of trust—
because, at least to my ear, it rang a tad vague for the most robust and evocative epithet in the context. I am far from intent on banning abstractions from poetry; however, I agree with this much of what Pound propounded among his dubious Don’tsgo in fear of abstractions—and am simply not altogether sure how this instance has avoided their pitfall. That said, I suppose it is also possible that there is no better word for what you mean to convey regardless.

Here, in what testifies to the excellence of your craft, the poem manages to amplify the subject to the dramatic without sinking into the melodramatic:
things near, things dear, all overthrown
for the sake of the launch of this congested cage of a boat,
this overcrowded catacomb
which only a wild child’s eye could set afloat.
I relish the metaphor—‘when my grip became their sea’—a good deal as equal parts evocative and apt. The speaker in this stanza enjoys the power to play god to men. He is as Neptune, able to beset the helpless in their ‘cage of a boat’ with waves and so author their hapless fate at will.

I hesitated over the rhythm of the line—‘it’s a formerly wonderstruck husk’—if only because it struck me as too Seussian, I suppose, compared to the rest of the poem. Even though the moment of hesitation is fleeting, I mention everything for what it is worth. I also appreciate the image of clearing ‘all spider’s nest debris.’ Further, ‘beneath time’s crust, eye to former eye, I set to sea’ casts at least this reader off with the impression that many a prospect lie ahead as yet untapped. This poem engrossed me, and then some!

All the best,

P.S. The title is perfect.

Roger Slater 09-08-2019 07:58 PM

I wouldn't touch a thing, except maybe the "wonderstruck husk" that Erik mentions, though I don't find it too Seussian. On the contrary, my issue is that (a) it doesn't feel natural and easy in the mouth to say, and (b) I don't quite buy the reinvention of the word to mean that the husk was formerly struck by the speaker/child's wonder. Personifying the husk like that seems awkward to me. But my objection is mild and the poem is quite good indeed.

Orwn Acra 09-08-2019 08:10 PM

It is a poem about masturbation.

RCL 09-08-2019 08:23 PM

Yeah, thought about that junk too, part of the poetic undertones.

Erik Olson 09-08-2019 11:16 PM

I too had thought about that particular undertone at one point, though I did not run with it, so to speak. For my part, it was the ironic connotation of stuff taken for scant value for which I found the title valuable. In case it is worth anything.

Andrew Mandelbaum 09-09-2019 07:01 AM


Originally Posted by Orwn Acra (Post 441634)
It is a poem about masturbation.

No. Masturbation is about the ship.

Great poem.

Rick Mullin 09-09-2019 08:34 AM

Masturbation is in the engine room of metaphor here.

R. Nemo Hill 09-09-2019 08:44 AM

It's amazing how the single word masturbation can kidnap everyone's attention. It was the furthest thing from my mind here.

"It is ordinary objects that emerge from the flood,
and it is they that lead me back to my sadness."

More later,

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