Two digging sticks; a coffee jar from uncle Tang;
my cousin sulking in the rain but back again now
he sees me kneeling on the floor, head to the root
ball curled like a cat in the steaming earth, dirty
on my dress from wiping eager hands, forgiveness
in the trees: a hunt for the birth of a world.
Review of “Jade Crickets,” by Ed Wickliffe
At first I wondered what was happening in this poem: is “jade” a symbol, a color, or a stone? Why the “sticks”? Is “coffee” significant? Do “jade” and “Uncle Tang” mean we should take an Eastern, maybe a Chinese philosophical, view of the poem? Is the poem is so internal that its device and meaning will be known only to the narrator?
Though I cannot know the narrator’s full intent, I found “Jade Crickets” fascinating, as well as stylistically interesting and meaningful. In the narrative, some difficulty seems to have occurred between two cousins (seen as jade crickets, stony and riotously chirping?). As in most heated disagreements, sharp words might be exchanged, insults traded, even threats made—an unpleasant business. The poem begins afterward, when the regrets and self-examination set in.
One cousin returns from sulking while the other occupies herself with what seems like a gardening transplant project: (her) head to the root / ball curled like a cat in the steaming earth. In anger did someone bash Uncle Tang’s gift of a potted plant against the floor?
As the cousins collect their thoughts, this brief and somewhat elusive poem telescopes beautifully. Perspective moves from the mess on the floor: symbol of the argument; to the constancy of the trees outside: symbol of family and forgiveness; and then to the possibility of a fresh beginning: birth of a world. Uncle Tang’s potted plant will survive, we are certain.
“Jade Crickets” seems a poem that deals with personal faults superseded by love and hope. In a broader sense we might imagine corollary themes of wasteland and salvation, death and resurrection, or tragedy and triumph, even sin and purification. At the “root ball” of it, the poem invokes such classic themes, and fulfills them very nicely.