I’m not a fan of blank poetry. I know that rhymed poetry sounds silly to our modern ears, but also has a lovely symmetry of sound and when it’s done well its forced word choice that needs to follow a rhyme scheme and a meter is divinely beautiful. This means that some of the pressure is taken off the poet, but it puts a heavy burden on the poem. The lack of rhyme means that the content and the word choices had better blow me away, better connect emotionally, better feel really moved or at least feel like I’m getting a keen insight on the life of someone that I would not have otherwise understood. Does the poem shine a light on a political or social situation in an intelligent and innovative way? Does it reveal a side to human behavior that makes me realize something new? or bring me to an ah ha moment.
A good poem has an ah ha moment (at least). It’s a moment that makes everything else in it come together. Rita Dove’s “Daystar”shows me something that I don’t get to see very often in poems: a day in the life of a housewife. You’d think that there having been so many housewives over the centuries that there would have been more, but, no, they’re relatively rare. For me it is a revelation in two ways, I see into the life that I do not live (but understand, I too am a woman who does too much) and how even the world of poetry is a bit unevenly distributed among the sexes.
I appreciate also that this is a poem about her and her world and not about how much she admires him (or how much she compares to him). He is not even there working with her which should also tell us something about this woman’s world. She doesn’t just have too much work, but she’s the only one doing it (and not being paid to do it either). Makes me want to post a list of prices for services rendered like I’d seen feminists post in the 1970s (maid work for twenty four hours costs this much, babysitting costs this much, transportation services costs this much, chef work for three meals a day plus snacks costs that much, nursing care, etc…)
She writes about the doll slumping behind the door and you can imagine the woman’s empathy. Is she slumping by the other door? You can feel the pain of how busy the day is as the lovely moment of the cricket hoping by or the maple leaf floating by is only glimpsed quickly before the child appears at the top of the stair. This poem is segmented into fleeting moments that are beautiful and gone (a collection of haikus). And as soon as one moment is here another hops in to take its place giving that feeling that the woman must feel of a life of constant interruption, of going back and forth and one thing after another.
But there is one moment. One very quiet moment where nothing exists at all and for her it is that zen moment of peace and nothingness, her palace. She goes there to feel singularly important, especially when she is once again at the service of someone else’s needs and especially at time that she’s feeling the most tired. I know that it is the defining moment of the title, but somehow I’ve missed the meaning. It is a moment in the middle of the day. But a moment of nothingness is more likely to be a singularity than a star. The connotation might be that a star is something far from everything else and it is singular. The sun is the center of the solar system, but it is alone; it is the only giant ball of glowing gas radiating heat and light. I wonder if she is simply absorbing the sun’s heat and light and vicariously enjoying its loneliness, or its importance. I can appreciate that as well.
by Rita Dove
She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.
So she lugged a chair behind the garbage
to sit out the children’s naps.
Sometimes there were things to watch —
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf. Other days
she stared until she was assured
when she closed her eyes
she’d see only her own vivid blood.
She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
pouting from the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice? Why,
building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour — where
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.