Summary and Analysis

“Lift your right arm” resembles some of Peter Cherches’s other works in its striking brevity. Cherches is a leading writer of “short short fiction” (or “very short fiction”), which condenses a narrative into a page or less. Certainly this poem seems motivated by the same impulse to be concise and thought-provoking. The less the writer explains things for us, the more we have to rely on our own interpretive assumptions and come to our own interpretive conclusions.

The poem begins by jumping “into the midst of things” (in medias res), immediately presenting us with a number of puzzles. Who, in the first place, is the unnamed (and never-named) “she” who is addressing the speaker in line 1? Who, in the second place, is the unnamed (and never-named) person to whom she is speaking? Why is “she” telling that person (is it a he? is it a she?) to lift his or her right arm? Why the right arm, specifically? What is the context? Some readers will immediately begin to imagine various scenarios that might provide answers to these questions. Is the “she” a doctor or a nurse? Is the unnamed person to whom she is giving instructions a patient? If so, what is the doctor or nurse looking at or for?

Part of the “point” of the poem, perhaps, is to illustrate how deeply humans abhor a vacuum of information. Our “natural” impulse, in some ways, is to begin filling in whatever interpretive blanks we encounter in anything we read. The poem is intriguing (and hard to leave unfinished) precisely because it refuses to tell us what it is all about. We continue reading partly because most of us cannot leave mysteries—even possibly trivial mysteries—unexplained. We need to know not only what happens, but also why.

The tone of the speaker is as mysterious as anything s/he says. Why is s/he telling us about this encounter? Why doesn’t s/he explain more fully what is going on? Why does...

(The entire section is 715 words.)