8 Oars of Sleep, R. Nemo Hill

farmhouseFarmhouse, Romona Youngquist, 8 X 10, Oil

8 Oars Of Sleep*

One of cedar
sanded smooth,
pierced with iron,
notched, and grooved.

One in sunlight
dipped and waved.
One of willow
wept—in shade.

One curved and tender
draught of spice.
One adamantine
arctic slice.

One a stick
to catch a stream—
the crooked pole
of lazy dream.

One the raft
of rescue’s wing.
One the splash
of drowning things.

Of all life’s measures
I shall keep
only these
8 oars of sleep.

R. Nemo Hill


*This poem first appeared in R. Nemo Hill’s book of poems, In No Man’s Ear, published by Dos Madres Press in 2016.

Review by Tamer Mostafa

I was first called to this poem for the format and structure. It’s effective in using language, specifically verbs and adjectives, to a certain limit before stopping. If this structure, limiting each stanza to four lines and limiting each line to 3-4 words, didn’t exist, it poses the possibility of stretching into the cliché, but the poet avoids this nicely.

Stepping back to look at the poem as a whole, or even more as a scene, the more it functions as an oxymoron, in a constructive fashion. For one, there is the title that bears the term “sleep” and the scene of rowing on a body of water can both elicit a sense of calmness. However, breaking down the poem in the first stanza, more-so line by line, one can notice hints of violence enacted in the words of “pierced,” “notched,” and “grooved.” Although there are hints of optimism and strength in the image of the “one adamantine/arctic slice” and catching a stream, the thread of distress continues with “wept” in the second stanza and “the splash/of drowning things” in the fifth stanza. This presents to me as a hidden, underlying tension that is on the verge of being awoken. It certainly echoes towards elements of psychoanalysis that I believe are the driving force for the poem.

One subtle criticism I have is of the “I,” which is mentioned for the first time in the final stanza. I’m not sure it’s necessary, because even though there is always the presence of the “I,” albeit hidden behind the constant action of sanding, dipping, rescuing, and more, I believe the poem operates more accurately without the reader knowing or being alerted to the narrator’s desire of keeping the 8 oars of sleep.

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