J. T. Barbarese’s poem, “Walk Your Body Down,,” published in 2005 in the award-winning collection The Black Beach, presents a few intense moments from the narrator’s point of view as he observes an urban scene in some undisclosed city and contemplates the meaning of life. Through this poem, the reader witnesses a variety of emotions, including loneliness, frustration, and anger, as the narrator projects his feelings on and draws conclusions about his fellow city dwellers.
Barbarese’s narrator observes life around him and tries to make sense of it all. He observes the sounds and sights around him—the arguing couple, the crying baby, the man walking down the middle of the street—and weaves them together with the feelings and collected experiences of his own life, hoping that this will explain the fragmentation he sees. He sees stressful and maniacal behavior and wants to smooth the ragged edges. He senses death and wants to put a comfortable face on it. He tries to remind his readers to claim the lives that have been offered to them as gifts and to enjoy the present moment, before it is too late.
First Stanza, Lines 1–13
Barbarese’s poem “Walk You Body Down” begins with a very ordinary phrase. The narrator sits somewhere, possibly waiting for a bus or train, with strangers all around him. The narrator mentions a couple on his left. He is aware of them, eavesdrops on their conversation, but appears not to know them.
The narrator relates that the couple “is breaking up, the baby.” If the reader overlooks the punctuation in this line, the image that is created is violent, and the brutality of this image forces the reader to pay attention, which is probably exactly what the poet intended. Looking more closely, the reader sees the comma in the second line and realizes that the couple is breaking up, arguing, but they are not hurting the baby. The tension between them might be flaring, which may make the narrator uncomfortable.
The baby is sitting on a ramp “beside us,” the narrator states. The baby is separated from the couple and the narrator, on a ramp, which implies a taking off point of some kind. The baby, “sings maniacally,” setting a tone for the scene. The baby is singing as if it has gone mad. The baby might be feeling the emotions conveyed by the couple. The couple’s discomfort is affecting the people around them. But while the narrator just sits there and tries to control his own negative reactions to whatever the couple is doing, the baby sings, letting the whole world around it know exactly how it feels to be in the company of the couple whose relationship is ending. If the baby belongs to the couple, then the emotional discomfort becomes more understandable. Although too young to understand the situation, the baby feels the emotional strain of the couple.
By the fifth line of the poem, the narrator observes a man walking down the street, a man who reminds the narrator of himself. This man seems ordinary enough: he is middle-aged and of average build. However, he is doing something extraordinary: he is walking down the center of the street. The narrator immediately jumps to conclusions about the man, and these reactions are more about how the narrator feels about himself than about what he knows of this man. The narrator projects how he feels onto this stranger. The narrator notices little quirks about him. He then projects how he himself would feel if he were doing what this man is doing. For example, the narrator believes the man is “gathered into himself like an Arctic bird.” The fact that the narrator conjures up an image of an Artic bird, as opposed to a tropical bird, makes the reader think about the cold. An Artic bird must find some way to keep warm. When a man is cold, he might wrap his arms around himself in an attempt to contain his body heat. This is what the narrator suggests when he states that the man has “gathered into himself,” as if to protect himself from the cold. But the cold is not necessarily physical. It could be an emotional cold, the chill of “aloneness.” The narrator sees is his own loneliness. Sitting in the middle of a city of many people, the narrator feels alone in the crowd. Perhaps the couple feel it, too, as they face separating. Separation is also conveyed by the image of the baby, who is sitting on the ramp without anyone taking care of it. So far in the poem, most images have a touch of this loneliness.
In a strange way, the narrator, in line nine, attempts to create something positive from this sense of aloneness, which he states in the phrase “at home here.” This phrase usually conjures a warm feeling. There is a sense of belonging in being at home. However, the home that the narrator is talking about is not...
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