I believe this poem depicts a series of painful and complex emotions. The first clue is the title. Why ‘cancel stars’? What happens when stars are ‘cancelled’? This title is an immediate foothold into the poem. The second clue is ‘gypsy thrush’. If we break this into two components, ‘gypsy’ gives us an evocative image of environment, a way of life, while ‘thrush’ conjures a bird image — but the word is also associated with infection. These four carefully chosen words are compelling and subtly build tone.
Throughout the poem, the author gifts the reader with more such well chosen words, for example, ‘soft slumberous’ and ‘gently cupped’. In the context of the poem, these are strong sexual images that arouse suspense. They create a map that gives the reader an expansive and emotional window into the darkness of a landscape without stars.
I sense that this poem is about a young person, as evidenced by the hobby horse, ‘early empathy’, ‘premature destiny’, and confirmed further into the poem with the mention of ‘father’. Each stanza is built with pace and offers many examples where the choice of images sustains the tone implied in the title and the first two words of the poem.
In this first section of the poem, the reader is forced to question what exactly is it now, still, that she rinses? We rinse with water to cleanse. In this poem, without an overt articulation of the unspeakable crimes, we understand that the abused subject attempts to cleanse not only the physical violations, but also the inescapable damage done to emotional, spiritual and mental well-being, as well as the traumatic memories of how innocence was lost. These are the moments she can look toward — a ‘static’ childhood — as represented by ‘the cornered hobby horse’.
We are slumberous, of course, as we sleep — but these hours are her hours of pain. The persistent, alliterative ‘s’ adds to the tone. The repetitive ‘s’ can be a beautiful sound but here the author uses ‘rinses’ and one thinks of water; slippery, silent, sinister. Throughout the poem, the author provides the reader with short lines, enough breath to allow each line to permeate, paying particular attention to the weight of end words such as static, silent, slumberous, and pain, before moving to the next.
she rinses the stillness
which reminds her
of the cornered hobby horse
in a diminishing static
best expressed by silence
and soft slumberous
ponies in pain
It is impossible to comment on this poem without mentioning the end. As Mark Twain would say, ‘these words are not lightning, they are the lightning-bug.’
“inside some sudden night
their softness gone
too hard to be his
yet they are” – The breath one is encouraged to take here is imperative.
“all over” – Two very small words that utterly shake a reader’s heart.
Each word, breath, even the tone of the poem, is wedded to its eventual yield. Although the tone expresses the dark elements of the abuser, the environment around the events, it never forgets to pay care and empathy to the abused.
This poem is necessary; necessary both for those who have been abused as well as those who have not. It’s a painful indicator that abuse scars deeply and permanently, not only for the person suffering first hand, but also for those nearby and even those who come later. Abuse perpetuates and we must not stay outside looking in, believing it has nothing to do with us. Every child everywhere is everyone’s responsibility.
Every poem should imprint at least one line, one stanza that remains within and refuses to leave. A reader will not forget the final stanza, the final breath, and the ultimate two words, ‘all over’ – they send us straight back to the first line, where we see the ‘hush’ hidden in ‘thrush’ and begin re-evaluating the poem. I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to bear witness to an excruciatingly intimate piece of family history. The author held my hand and spoke quietly and eloquently.