Original poem reprinted online here: "White T-Shirt" by Lewis Ellingham
Originally read: March 5, 2013
More information about the Poet: Lewis Ellingham
So color is prevalent in this poem, and when I mean prevalent, I mean the symbol of the color white -- pure, and black -- reclusive, nothing. Both represented by white (young man) and black (speaker/atmosphere.other parts of the man).
So the speaker, the atmosphere, and the man himself are basically the same thing because the physical surroundings surrounding this white shirt stands out, the scenery and thoughts just fade into the mundane and the shirt is set up as totemic.
I think I'm getting too far into it. Yes, I use the ambiguous pronoun of "it" because this is how the poem starts, "I caught sight of it at a bust stop." Now, I usually don't like the use of ambiguous pronouns, but after reading a couple of poems with them and how the noun operates -- I get a sense of this. When "it" is in the poem, the focus should be on the opposite. For example, the focus of the poem is the "I" and the verb "sight" stands out most. What does this mean -- well the first line sets up how the speaker views things -- objectifies things, concepts, parts, ideas.
And the main concept is the "white T-Shirt" which stands out regardless of "human forms" blocking the way. And even though this is the focus, the first line indicates the poem is more about the speaker than the concept which kind of justifies the exposition in the next couple of lines starting with, "I was riding" -- and with these lines "it" (referring to the white T-shirt)comes back as a noun and the descriptive focus is on the speaker, "right side, sheltered."
How does the speaker feel about it -- objectified. The description of the "white T-shirt" and the man wearing is very physical: "the other arm dangling, his hips relaxed, / every color -- hair eyebrows, lashes, half-day beard shadow, / heavy cotton pants, a / jacket a dangling from the dangling left arm -- black"
So here's whee I should insert the discussion about color, but I'm going to write about line lengths and breaks. The breaks feel like they're trying to reconcile content, but is unable to. As if the speaker is aware about the artifice that would objectify the young man, the shirt. And even though the narrative description is as linear as it could get -- each broken line, to me, further fractures the figure into an artifice.
Meanwhile, the retreating space -- the white space represents the retreat -- the inability to appopriate any emotion from the speaker.
So yes, this is a convoluted way to say there is a representational color reversal -- no I won't go back and try to be clear. Although I should.
Anyway, as the poem goes further -- the figure all black (all "shadow" akin to Jungian terminology). The poem reinforces the "white" trope -- beauty, clean, bright. Here, I think the lines could be taken as bringing in emotion -- perhaps lust; and yes, I would agree, however, the description is more generic, open, as though to keep the object as an object rather than a want.
The though which is reinforced with the line, "a white T-shirt, an / object" and the last line, "white, / an object still.
I do have to note the departure at "Castro, Market, and 17th street" and how their eyes met. These lines feel more like a transition that has to happen in order for the narrative to be complete, but the poem isn't about the narrative, but how the speaker observes, objectifies, and does nothing.