Monday, May 28, 2007

Stephen Dunn, "Five Roses in the Morning"

March 16, 2003

On TV the showbiz of war,
so I turn it off
wishing I could turn it off,
and glance at the five white roses
in front of the mirror on the mantel,
looking like ten.
That they were purchased out of love
and are not bloody red
won't change a goddamned thing—
goddamned things, it seems, multiplying
every day. Last night
the roses numbered six, but she chose
to wear one in her hair,
and she was more beautiful
because she believed she was.
It changed the night a little.
For us, I mean.


I've moved into a new apartment, and now having achieved a new home, I've started looking beyond the present to the future once again. Part of that has been MFA programs, and part of looking at those has been embarking on some more varied reading. Feeling more studious in reponse to this, I've decided to revive TPQ once again, if only for sporadic updates.
I came across this poem in The Best American Poetry 2005, edited by Paul Muldoon (aha, now you see why I was curious!). In his introduction, Muldoon calls attention to the ethical responses in poetry post 9/11 and amidst the Iraq War. "Five Roses in the Morning" is humanely poised at the crossroads of outrage and exasperation, despair and solipsism, inconsequence and solace. As such, it seems to be a very honest working through - of the need for a small refuge in love and beauty, against the knowledge that personal acts of love, or the act of a poem, even if meaningful as a redemption of our humanity against the inhumanity taking place in the world, still only provide refuge for those already safe, may provide an illusional amelioration, but make no practical difference. The poem plays with both multiplying - of the "goddamned things" and the reflected roses - and casualties - "not bloody red" and the sacrifice of the sixth rose. Throughout, the value of these gains and losses is uncertain: the one rose sacrificed to make beauty - or rather, believed beauty - left the five roses, but these appear as ten. Added to natural human subjectivity and self-concern is the enabling skew of technology and global distance, the "TV ... showbiz of war" which can simply be turned off (though ghost images still haunt this speaker). The conclusion is an odd, yet authentic alloy of redemptive hope and the perspective of conscience which trebly qualifies such redemption: "because she believed she was. / It changed the night a little. / For us, I mean." One might argue that the union of these two scenes - exasperation at the war and a small moment of transcendence - implicitly evokes a sense of the tragedy of war being a tragedy of the exclusion of poetry, an exclusion of beauty, for those within the meaningless circus of ugliness as well as those watching, hands and feet tied, within the stands.