I ran over a shadow,

and the car went bump.

In the back, the kid

was worrying his sweet

tooth with the tip

of his tongue.

What he wanted

was to catch me

in a generous mood.

He saw all the signs:

“Vote Yes,” “Speed Table,”

“No Exit,” and he mumbled

with disgruntled syncopation,

as in sazzifrazzin laws                                                                                                                                        

and laws, the dark

graphics standing

between us and the wildness

we shed to get through.

What he wanted

was to stay

in the shadow of the fish

crow, hooking

left where they let

down the guard-

rail, to crash

through the sage-

brush and angry

old trees that wait

to be thrown

into relief.

Oh, there are Great

rules I want

him to keep,

so I broke the little

red fish into halves

and sent them flying

into the back

when he opened his mouth

to speak.


Occasionally I come across a poem I’d love to have written. And even when I might try to emulate it (pulling it apart: rhythm, vision, sentiment) I know there is something about the perfect, only-one-way-to-do-it manner that it is written in, that makes it impossible. Of course, like any work I like, the best thing is to allow it to rest in my mind so that my unconscious can feed from it when it needs to. Appreciation, I think is the best word to assign to the process.

Swedish Fish by Carolyn Guinzio published May 26, 2014 in The New Yorker, is one such piece of work. For the accomplished and aspiring poet alike – and indeed, the careful reader – what’s important in this poem (it would seem to me) is to grab hold of the acerbic, no-nonsense, almost contemptable but not hopeless, sense of a mother dealing with her child as they set off on a trip in the car. She is looking past her child in a sense, to what progress has had to do in order for people to progress; and, perhaps, that is more compelling or overwhelming, while not being as demanding as the presence of her child.

But no matter how this excellent poem is interpreted, it makes me wonder at the way humans might be able to remove themselves from the monumental while still having to deal with the everyday in life.


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