CL Bledsoe

A Hug from Rumplebitchkin

A real slice of childhood life. The terse sentence structure helps this piece move along. The perspective shifts help flesh out both the children’s take on things and the old lady. I wonder about this old lady. She’s portrayed as a witch, the stereotypical “other.” At the end of the story, she almost seems to take pleasure from frightening the kids, which is certainly very witch-like. It’s certainly deserved by the kids. But it doesn’t seem totally malicious. She almost seems to look forward to these opportunities. She certainly seems to be well-practiced. The title seems to imply non-malicious behavior as well—it is a “hug” after all. 

The flipside is the kid’s take on things.  It’s unclear what the kids are specifically trying to do—whether they want to ring the old woman’s doorbell and run away, or whether they’re trying to see her. What could be a simple ding-dong-ditch is shown as a rite of passage; the fairy tale character of the witch or loner is updated into a shut-in pensioner.

All in all, the relationship seems to be benevolent. The kids get a healthy scare and the old lady gets a little bit of human interaction. It’s a shame that this is as far as it goes, but the old lady doesn’t seem to be inviting kids around for cookies. At least, this is the impression the reader gets. I have to admit, I was kind of hoping she’d beat the kid with the frying pan…

The Guitar Man

A rich character sketch. There are a lot of pitfalls to a “hard-living” story and to a blues story. Davis does a good job navigating around and avoiding most of these. He focuses on the redemptive possibilities in the character, going so far as to have him be “saved” in a Christian sense. Redemption for Guitar Man doesn’t come solely through religious redemption, though; it comes from the love of the music. 

The inclusion of Guitar Man’s grandfather really adds the possibility of an emotional connection for the reader. It grounds the character—giving him a real history. He isn’t solely an archetype; we begin to see him as something resembling a human being. The details—brief selections of song lyrics, chords and references to scales and musical devices—really help flesh out the piece. 

I’m generally not a fan of bar stories, but I like seeing the story from the point of view of a musician, especially one who isn't totally jaded. In fact, Guitar Man turns away from fame; he mentions not wanting to be in the spotlight, literally, and we can only assume he also means this figuratively. The focus, here, is on the music, not the accoutrements of fame. 

Coffee is a River

The line breaks are quick and clean, which helps move the reader down the page. There is a consistent aquatic metaphor throughout. The river, like the morning ritual of drinking coffee, flows ever onward through all of our days.  The poem has a playful tone. Fowles describes following the river, which will “find the open ocean and lead us to her home (which, according to the coffee container, is either Indonesia or Eastern India).” He goes on to add, “I hope it’s India,” and suffuses the poem with a wistful air, describing a fairy tale (his words) version of this place he’d like to visit, replete with elephants, a golden palace, exotic dishes, and other magical, almost childlike things including “mythological men with blue skin.” 

In his notes, Fowles compares the pouring of coffee to a trickling river, which is apt. One can imagine him preparing for his workday, pouring coffee, luxuriating in its rich odors, and wishing he could escape from the 9-5 drudgery. But this is a hopeful poem. Fowles hopes to experience things fresh and new; he wants to “read the Bhagavad-Gita for the first time.” It isn't simple escapism he’s preaching; he’s writing about the preservation of joie de vivre. 

Pain Comes in Two Sizes 

Beginning with a time (2 a.m.) grounds the reader immediately. Obviously, the narrator is deeply troubled—so much so that he can’t sleep. The reader is never really let in on the problem, though. What we get is insomnia, a vivid description of the aural detritus of night in the average home—the noise of machines. There are clues as to the source of the insomnia, though. The narrator, tossing and turning, can’t get comfortable, “Maybe I’m better off on/my left side. Maybe I’m better off/dead.” The line breaks are particularly effective here, emphasizing the surprise of the morbid turn. Why is he thinking about death? 

Maybe, instead, the question is why is he thinking about life—because this is the true concern of the narrator. While he lays awake, he listens to ice clink in the ice maker, his head also full of noise, “Advil or Aleve? Coke or Pepsi?” he asks. Minutia like these noises and these questions is what fills a life. 

At the end of the poem, six minutes have passed. We can take this more than one way. On the surface, it is a humorous observation—the narrator fills that an immense amount of time has passed, but it hasn't. In addition, we could take these six minutes as foreboding—put simply, the fact that only six minutes has passed means that many more minutes must still pass. In a state such as insomnia, this can be a hopeless thing. It implies that there is much more suffering to go. On the other hand, of course, when there’s time remaining, there’s hope. 

CL Bledsoe

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