Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dad Aubade by Terese Svoboda

Worry, a kind of aubade
where the lover, mornings,
doesn’t leave, she’s dressed,
her shoes are tied but.

I stretch my face Dad-
like, Dad’s in my huff
and sit-up puff. Why
worry? He’s only dizzy.

I shower it off. All night
I’ve hammered doors shut
with my heel—I’m going
to do better tight-chested?

I telephone him and love
is what I tell him, and he
laughs like it’s a lie and says
It’s too early to call.

It seems only appropriate, since we’ve just passed Father’s Day in the U.S., to offer a Dad poem from the States. Terese Svoboda is a prolific and surprising writer, comfortable in both poetry and prose, with an Iowa Prize in poetry, O. Henry prize in fiction and a Pushcart Prize in non-fiction among her many accolades.  She’s published a dozen books; this poem is from her recent collection Weapons Grade (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2009).

There is much to admire about this poem. At its centre is a speaker trying to resist an obsessive worry for her father’s health, given a recent episode of dizziness, a resistance whose failure makes the speaker’s concern that much more powerful. 

Svoboda engages playfully with the tradition of the aubade, a dawn poem that typically centres on the parting of lovers. Worry, she writes, is a kind of aubade, one that refuses to do its work. It seems an appropriate title for the poem, given the emphasis here on love, worries about (final) parting (which despite the speaker’s fears may also not come to pass anytime soon), and, towards the end, distance. 

Sneakily, the poem seems less about worry than about the father-daughter relationship that worry brings to the fore. I particularly admire the economy of the final stanza, which reveals much about that relationship and about such relationships more generally—the distances that parents and children are apt to see differently on their opposing ends of the phone line. 

I’m generally wary of poems that conclude with action and speech because these often depend on situation, on drama, rather than on an engagement with language. But Svoboda’s use of language and tone here is expert; it is not the drama but the several connotations of the father’s words which carry the day. The engagement with language, the play with tradition, and the complexity of the feelings make, for me, the expertise of this short poem something to strive for.

Bryan Walpert is the editor for Tuesday Poem this week. He is an award-winning poet and short fiction writer. An American-born NZ citizen he lives in Palmerston North, New Zealand, teaching creative writing at Massey University. He has published Etymology (Cinnamon Press) and Ephraim's Eyes (Pewter Rose) and blogs when he can - especially on a Tuesday. 

Take time to visit the other Tuesday Poets in the live blog roll in the sidebar. 


Emma said...

Love this poem.

Helen Lowe said...

I think the ending is "just right" for the poem and resonates the truth of so many familial relationships.

Kathleen Jones said...

This is a good choice - a poet I'd never heard of. Which is the great thing about this blog - discovering new poets!

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Goes right to the "heart" of the matter - perfect really.

Mim said...

I admire the tension of the lines, the abrupt yet playful enjambments. Svoboda packs in so much.

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Michelle Elvy said...

Just came to this as I'm cruising through some Svoboda tonight. I just love this -- really tight imgages like "she's dressed,/ her shoes are tied but." The last stanza is just great.