Monday, August 27, 2007

Distance From Loved Ones

I've been thinking about this poem recently, for reasons I'm not sure I understand. The poet responsible, James Tate, taught at the University of Massachusetts when I as at Amherst. Once or twice, I saw him wandering around town. He typically had a dazed, self-absorbed, fragile kind of aura about him--very much like a poet is supposed to. A holy innocent, he seemed, although I don't know how much of that was contrivance and how much was truth. Regardless, I love this poem.
Distance from Loved Ones
by James Tate

After her husband died, Zita decided to get the face-lift
she had always wanted. Half-way through the operation
her blood pressure started to drop, and they had to stop.
When Zita tried to fasten her seat-belt for her sad drive
home, she threw-out her shoulder. Back at the hospital
the doctor examined her and found cancer run rampant
throughout her shoulder and arm and elsewhere. Radiation
followed. And, now, Zita just sits there in her beauty parlor,
bald, crying and crying.

My mother tells me all this on the phone, and I say:
Mother, who is Zita?

And my mother says, I am Zita. All my life I have been
Zita, bald and crying. And you, my son, who should have known
me best, thought I was nothing but your mother.

But, Mother, I say, I am dying. . .

1 comment:

Sebastian said...

This poem disturbs me for reasons I am not sure I understand.

It reminds me of the descent of Inanna into the underworld. I am pressed for time, so I have hastily grabbed the relevant passage from wikipedia:

After she [Inanna] had crouched down and had her clothes removed, they were carried away. Then she {made her sister Erec-ki-gala rise from her throne, and instead she sat on her throne.}* The Anna, the seven judges, rendered their decision against her. They looked at her -- it was the look of death. They spoke to her -- it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her -- it was the shout of heavy guilt. The afflicted woman was turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook.

*The part of the translation in {} braces has been disputed.

Whitman's analysis of death seems less bleak to me.

I bequeath myself to the dirt...

One shouldn't have to deal with bald, crying people all the time. Part of me thinks these people need a backhand and a barbaric yawp.