Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
The collection’s title poem is short but cutting, evoking the power of words to hurt the vulnerable, but also the ambiguous function of silence. The linking of a silent reply with a donkey image softens the sharpness while underlining the biblical connection.
The collection is evenly divided between two sections: “Poems for My Enemies” and “The Wedlocked.” At the end, a stand-alone piece, “Poem for Wednesday,” is a long cry of anticipated grief.
The identities of the “enemies” are never made quite clear. Is Kogawa referring to the nameless old man in the library, subject of the poem “Old Man in the Library,” who is struggling to turn his newspaper pages? Is she referring to orange-haired old woman in the poem “Orange Hair,” whose tottering across the beach makes others’ eyes seek refuge in a book?
Perhaps she is. Certainly, age is a felt enemy here, along with the demanding serpent of success (“The Success Ladder”) and even insomnia, compared to a procession of bugs swarming over the body (“Or Poor Coordination”). “Office Toads” evokes the rarity of trust in the workplace. “Faucet Sounds” envisions marital discord in terms of dripping faucets and plumbing bills. “In the Almost Evening” flings out a lament about abandonment. The “tiny blue eraser baby boy” of “Erasure” brings an unbearable poignancy to remembrance of an abortion.
“The Wedlocked” poems plumb the hurts and careful avoidances of marriage in symbols ranging from “blue eels” to “tumbleweed.” Not only the wedded but also the formerly wedded can find an uneasy resonance with their own experience. This section is one of personally centered poems, their focus very different from Kogawa’s usual, larger themes.
“Poem for Wednesday” starts with flashes from a hospital: a report, white walls, a “steady metallic endless November of nurses.” Cascading into memories, the vigil becomes a flood of images bright and dark. In its allusions, this is probably one of the most Canadian of the author’s poems, with its evocation of forests, the “leaping shadows of small animals,” and an “ice-locked ark.” Urban images also appear, and both return to the despair of the hospital vigil. A defiance of the deity—“if I refuse to cry now refuse to play in your wind-up world”—fades away in the inevitable approach of death. It is a heartbreaking meditation on the limits of mortality and love.
Kogawa’s poetry is lyrical, dense with images, and yet accessible to most readers. This collection is less political than most of Kogawa’s work, but it speaks of humanity’s shared experiences.
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