Steve Coxen is writing poetry for a dare. Just to see if he can.
That rock at the bend in the great ragged river
Is wet on one side and dry on the other.
As tall as a man and broader than a bear
It is a head of sorts,
For under its neck lies the wreck of my father,
Stretched from shore to shore
And rendered now in a mineral wash.
Calcite and feldstar
Harden a spine that whipped in life.
The siftings of a distant hill have filled out the veins with gold
Bones of fish give fingers a subtle grip
And that rock, turning, and dipping, in each flood
Is witness to all.
There is a scuffle of sand behind me,
The sound of a car door clicking closed,
Then a voice as dry as reed.
"You look intense," says Marty, squinting through the sun.
"Hey, you lived here once… Am I right?"
A lackluster wind is rising and plaid shorts pluck at legs
The color of pomegranates, flayed alive.
"That sandbank was once my mother’s belly"
I tell him, pointing south,
"I built childish castles with salamander guards
And on the battlements
Were samphire flags."
Marty shrugs. "Yeah, I can see that…
Look, I’m heading down to Juanita’s for tacos and a beer.
We can get smashed. We can wrestle the cactus gals!"
I gaze across the roiling flow and count the vertebrae
Of stepping stones and white spat waves
"For me, it is to dance from shore to shore," I tell him
And do honor to my father’s name.
"But like a wary bird, I flit and fret,
In wonder at what I might become."
Marty paws the ground
“Flitting and fretting? he spits.
"That’s no way for anyone to be!
C’mon man. This river is no good.
A ways, a while ago, old Injun Joe caught a raft of innocents
And crushed them on his forehead
Like a pack of eggs."
"Old Joe, I recall," I tell him.
"Once the hammer of the river tribes.
We found much comfort in their grief."
Marty nods, wisely.
"The tour company is going to blow that boulder
Clean to dust and build a rest room
On the stump.
They pictured it in the River Post.
See what Ole Joe catches then!"
"I guess I can come back another day," I say,
But know too well that none of this is really me
And somehow I am nothing else.
A Critical Perspective
Poetry and other literary works are always open to interpretation. A Shakespeare play is never performed the same way twice. No two people reading a poem by W.B. Yeats will have the same emotional reaction or the same understanding of the piece.
So what follows should be taken as pure opinion, even though it is written by the poem's author.
Shakespeare is certainly in there. "Ariel's Song" in "The Tempest" is undoubtedly the origin of the mineralized father.
T.S Eliot provides a template for the subversion of the narratation in "The Wreck of my Father".
In Sweeney Erect, Eliot delivers three marvelous opening verses with impeccable aesthetics that take the reader to ancient Greece.
He then gives us his protagonist "Sweeney" portrayed as a bestial figure, a common man with scandalous habits.
What you make of the poem is up to you.
In "The Wreck of My Father" the narrator uses heightened language indiscriminately, whilst Marty is determined to be ordinary.
While Eliot could easily be seen as misanthropic and, perhaps, even racist ("Sweeney" has an Irish ring), the present author, on the face of it, has sympathy with Marty's bland and ordinary preoccupations.
If the narrator is concerned with myth, Marty is concerned with his physical appetites. It could also be said that he prefers denial to dealing with uncomfortable issues.
The Poem's Themes
Patrimony is the most obvious theme.
The underlying question is: how can we be comfortable with our forebears (and ourselves) when so much of our history has been driven by greed and actions we can only consider to be crimes form the basis our present comforts?