Original poem reprinted online here: "Spaces We Leave Empty" by Cathy Song
Originally read: February 11, 2013
More information about the Poet: Cathy Song
This poem took me a long time to analyze when I first read it. I finally had to write down the reason why. "Is this poem about rape? or does it matter? Is there something wrong with my interpretation." This thought stems from the external scenario of the poem -- a thief enters a window and steals something with the mother looking on helplessly.
I thought to myself, "why did my thoughts go there?" There's no mention of sexual in here unless implied or interpreted by the reader. However, after rereading I have a new interpretation on the poem -- which is also disturbing for me since I'm thinking I'm either trying to deflect my original interpretation or, perhaps, I do see something new. In any case, I'm getting too far away from the poem.
The focus in the first two stanzas in the poem is the jade. The attributes of the jade is that it's owned by the speaker, and the act (note not the jade itself) of the jade slipping from the wrist elicits the nature metaphor based on "smooth."
1) water leaving the mountain
2) silk falling from a shoulder
3) melon slices sliding across the tongue
4) the fish returning.
And here, from my first read I was thinking these metaphors had a sexual connotation behind them especially, "melon slices sliding across the tongue" (akin to "Persimmons" by Li-Young Lee, and "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams. However, I see the images as an ingrained history within the jade -- history that is important to the speaker. Could the jade have more meanings than this -- of course.
When the third stanza comes around there's a really huge sense of ambitiousness where whatever is connoteted and extrapolated from the metaphors becomes amplified from the lack of presence from the speaker, and the focus being on the image.
"The bracelet worn since my first birthday" is a blunt statement, but the most ambiguous at the same time. Yes, there's the line which concretely states the relationship between the speaker and the jade, but not the age of the speaker was at that moment. What does this mean? However, the images are interpreted, the speaker removes herself from the poem with metaphors and refocusing on items "the sound [of the bracelet cracking] could be heard /ringing across the water."
Then in the next stanza the focus is on the mother and the thief getting away. The mention of the nightgown versus the the thief's howl once again focuses the poem to images, lists like "The cultured pearls. / The bone
flutes. / the peppermint disks of jade." And yes, with the adjective noun combinations listed, the weight of meaning and connotation is in the adjectives, "cultured" "bone" "peppermint disks" -- which brings a mixture of age, culture, and I guess taste (weird one with peppermint).
Past me wrote this for the last stanza, "this might be a little much and forced, it's like a summary of emotion." Well, not so much. Where is the emotion in the poem? There's anger from the mother, but what of the speaker. The poem is based around metaphors that 1) distance the emotions 2) develops the atmosphere and scenes as experience for the reader but not for the speaker.
What the last stanza does is set up this concept of "the clean hole / in the center." And for me as a reader to interpret where the hole is. However, the speaker has already interpreted the hole as "Heaven: / the space we left empty." And I think past me focused on the last two lines rather than the first two. What is the clean hole? Emotional connectivity to the scene? The bracelet? The absence of the bracelet? The distance between the mother and the daughter? A lot of interpretations.