Sunday, November 25, 2007

“Night Terrors,” by Alan Shapiro

p. 90

Whose voice is it in mine when the child cries,
terrified in sleep, and half asleep myself I’m there
beside him saying, shh, now easy, shh,

whose voice — too intimate with all the ways
of solace to be merely mine; so prodigal
in desiring to give, yet so exact in giving

that even before I reach the little bed,
before I touch him, as I do anyway,
already he is breathing quietly again.

Is it my mother’s voice in mine, the memory
no memory at all but just the vocal trace,
sheer bodily sensation on the lips and tongue,

of what I may have heard once in the pre-
remembering of infancy — heard once and then
forgot entirely till it was wakened by the cry

brought back, as if from exile, by the child’s cry,—
here to the father’s voice, where the son again
can ask the mother, and the mother, too, the son—

Why has it taken you so long to come?

This poem has some of the same ideas as yesterday's — where does the Wise Parent in us come from? (And why isn’t he / she always there?) Also, how it seems we reconnect and re-heal the break we made as teenagers with our own parents when we become parents. Though the language is simple and straightforward, there is such a driving rhythm to this poem, forcing us onwards, waking us up. And this looping up of lines in alliteration or other sound-echoes - though staying stubbornly this side of real rhymes - creates a strong sense of chant. The pervasive alliteration and other subtle inter-echoes weaves one line into the next: ("Is is my mother's in mine, the memory/ no memory . . .," for example, or "Whose voice is it in mine when the child cries/ terrified in sleep, and half asleep myself." The fact that the entire poem is a single sentence gives it a breathless - half-woken - immediacy.

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