Blood Dazzler

In “Ethel’s Sestina,” Smith conveys emotions of both hopelessness and hopefulness. She places us directly “into the shoes” of the speaker of the poem, Ethel Freeman, by using colloquial diction; consequently, readers can more fully feel what it must have been like tobe Ethel. In the second stanza of the poem, Smith writes, “It’s the sun / foolin’ them, shining much too loud for sleep, / making us hear engines, wheels. Not yet. Wait.” Certainly, the sun does not make sound, and, thus, it could never be “too loud.” However, this use of metaphor communicates to readers the hope Ethel must have experienced when she mistook the sun for a bus, as well as thehopelessness that must have arisen when she realized the sun was not a way home, after all. In addition, Smith’s repetition of the words “wait” and “come” further evoke Ethel’s senses of hopelessness and hopefulness, respectively.

The poem “Buried” is filled with a father’s heartache over the loss of his son and the horrific task of having to personally bury him. Smith “sets the tone” of the poem by opening with a quote from Ed Mazoue; Mazoue talks about the burial of loved ones so matter-of-factly (and coldly) that one cannot help but hurt for the families who, like the speaker of the poem, had no choice but to bury their own. Smith’s use of line breaks (such as where the poem reads, “Progress is slow,” and “like they know”) creates the effect of physical “blows”; each statement that is set apart from the others is rather short, yet powerful, like a punch. Imagery is also prevalent in this poem; the vivid descriptions of the father’s memories of his son— the “white bread and purple jelly” and “Snoopys, Blues, and Scoobys”—enable readers to truly feel the father’s sorrow, as it is clear that not another memory will be made.

In her poem “34,” Patricia Smith uses a variety of different tactics to convey emotions ranging from hope to despair based on the lengths of each stanza, the word choice used, and the structure of each, essentially making each of the 34 a poem in themselves. For instance, 24 adopts a bargaining tone when speaking to God: “those wacky miracles/you do/for no reason at all” (Smith 55)? Many of the nursing home residents express faith as their final thoughts but they all had some measure of dignity. For 24, she uses “wacky” as a means of taking the majesty and power of those miracles away, much like someone claiming to ask for a small favor but, in retrospect, are asking a big favor so they don’t sound pleading. This can be accurately applied to 24 as it adds a bargaining tone to the voice, as if the narrator knows the situation is dire but is not yet ready to beg in the obvious sense. This idea of a subtle attempt at begging is emphasized with the last line “for no reason at all,” broken from the line before which is the shortest line in the dialogue. By breaking the lines apart, Smith is not only placing fate in God’s hands (as he performs miracles, not 24) but adding further triviality by claiming God performs miracles without an agenda, a contradiction to traditional Christian thinking. As a result, 24 further weakens the idea that saving lives is very difficult for God: he performs miracles all the time, saving 34 nursing home residents shouldn’t be an issue for him. As a result, 24 is expressing faith in the divine as well as the gravity of the situation but attempting to remain dignified, not quite desperate enough to beg but getting there as the water rises.

The emotions here are despair and resent told with brutal honestly and descriptive vocabulary and images. In “Katrina” Smith wrote, “…gut dragging and bulging with ball lightening, slush / broke through branches, steel / I was bitch-monikered, hipped, I hefted / a whip rain, a swirling sheet of grit.” She often writes in 1st person from the perspective of the storm itself, giving it a voice and a personality and a reason while adding to it’s power. In “What to Tweak” Smith gives death a smell as if it’s common object,  “Death has an insistent iron smell, oversweet rot / loud enough to wither certain woods.” and puts a hopeless, depressing image in the readers mind, “and up on roofs of tombs, / sinking mothers claw the sky, / pray the rising river away from their scream.” In this poem, Smith explicitly reveals to the readers what the media isn’t telling them/doesn’t know. In “Tankas” Smith wrote, “I have three children, / but only two arms. he falls / and barely splashes, / that’s how incredibly light / he is–was. How death whispers,” and “Here is what drowning / feels like–gods hands smothering / your heart. and the thumps / grow slower, slower, until / he takes back your name. Lifts you.” These, to me, were the two most moving stanzas in the entire book. They display the most despair and the utmost reality of the events of Hurricane Katrina while describing horrific events of death that most people can’t even fathom.

The emotions are also shown by different forms such as line breaks, space on the page, and quotes. Smith incorporates quotes into her poems, not always starting the with quotes, like in “What to Tweak.” The poem is split up by Bahamonde’s list of the generalized problems occurring in New Orleans at the time (from an email sent to his boss) and Smith’s respective in-depth truth about the problems. The form in “Tankas” is quite different from the rest; the poem is made up of small stanzas organized in zig-zag shapes, with the mood changing drastically from the left to right side as you move down as two different stories are told. Throughout the book, Smith often uses line breaks to express emotion. In one of the earliest poems, “5 p.m. Tuesday, August 23, 2005,” she writes, “…How dare / the water belittle my thirst, treat me as just / another / small / disturbance“. Those last three words are separated in three different lines to emphasize their meaning and irony; Hurricane Katrina, especially to those who experienced it, was no small disturbance. As Smith shows, that’s all it was to the rest of the country though.

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