My Favorite Poem and Analysis

12Apr11

Better, Thanks

by Christopher Kennedy

 

It was always hard for them to tell

which was foreign and which was domestic.

Also, who should wash the dancers,

who should interrogate the chicken.

 

Then there was the issue of who should steer

the weasel. He kept giving her directions

to the swimming pool. She argued the size

of his snowshoes. Once they arrived

 

wherever it was they were going, he would ratchet

the moon from the sky and offer it to her;

she would repair the shriveling skyscape.

They were so much in love with tomorrow, it never came.

 

And who can endure the litany of now? Return

the moon to its rightful owners. That’s all I’m saying.

 

(You can buy Christopher Kennedy’s poems here.)

 

The first thing you’ll notice, and you’re certainly supposed to, is the absurd nonsense words. The snowshoes and the weasel and the dancers are all seemingly random nouns thrown in places that they don’t belong. In the context of the poem, they have no meaning. They can be easily replaced by dishes or clothes or whatever. Kennedy is trying to say that not only do the nouns themselves have no meaning, but also that they have no meaning in the lives of the characters.

The poem paints the familiar picture of everyday life for the generic American. You have to get the kids to soccer practice, have to pick a wine to drink at the dinner (foreign or domestic?), have to steer the car and get wherever it is you’re going to that day. What makes this poem so beautiful is that Kennedy manages to put into words the feeling of doing these menial, banal tasks. It’s almost as reading the first two stanzas is the same as picking up your kid from swim practice.

Then, scene, characters and plot established (and so concisely!) the poem takes the hard turn for the message, the kicker, the moral. There’s a sharp change in tone between the second and third stanzas, almost as if the poem is not fooling around anymore. Shit is serious now. Gone are the nonsense words and down-to-earth feel from the beginning and now the poem resembles more a classical romance sonnet. We see feelings, and caring and emotion enter the picture and the poem wants us to know that we are not messing around with buckling our seatbelts before we go to get milk anymore. That petty nonsense is not on the same level as what happens in the third stanza. Also, ‘shriveling skyscape’ is, for lack of better words, awesomely poetic.

Remember It’s A Wonderful Life when you read the last stanza. When George is giddy with love for his soulmate, Mary, after the school dance, he’s just so unbelievably happy being around her. He babbles out a boast, a question

George Bailey: “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”

Mary: “I’ll take it. Then what?”

George Bailey: “Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair… am I talking too much?”

The next line urges him to kiss her, but before he can, he gets interrupted with news of his father’s death and the play goes on from there. Naturally, you know the story. He gets caught up in ‘the litany of now’ and loses faith and his love. Have George’s situation in mind as you go into the last paragraph.

This part. You remember.

I don’t understand the ending, truly. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it can be interpreted in a number of ways. Probably the best way to see it is, he offers her his love (his life, his everything, something so crazily intangible it’s like asking for the moon). In their love there could be an escape. They could put aside the trivialities and focus on what’s important: each other. But she rejects it and they “endure the litany of now”. If you see it that way, then the last line is a plea from the author to the readers: “Keep dreaming. Give your moon, your love, your everything, to your sweethearts (its rightful owner). Share that and treasure it, and it will save you from washing the dancers or arguing over the size of snowshoes – the litany of now. Be jealous, conceited lovers. It the same plea, same emotion that is expressed in that one Bright Eyes song when Conor sings, “I believe that lovers should be draped in clover//laid entwined together in a bed of clover//left there to sleep//left there to dream//of their happiness”

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