Original poem reprinted online here: "Gifts out of Dirty Weather" by Elton Glaser
Originally read: March 17, 2013
More information about the Poet: Elton Glaser
I find the first two lines of the poem quite humorous, "At the mall, three dead weeks before Christmas, / Half the women are old and half are ancient." And since the poem is written in couplets there's an emphasis on these stanza which is also endstopped. What is the focus here? For me, it's the play on expectation. First, "three dead weeks before Christmas" shows a certain change of perspective. Working in retail for a while, three weeks before Christmas is the busiest -- shallow materialistically. But the focus on the speaker is women who are old or ancient -- shallow physicality. So the poem with the first two couplets set up a tone of cynicism, humor on an observant level.
But then this type of cynicism and humor turns inward with next couplet with the introduction of the speaker "I" and what he/she specifically wants "drink." Stop here. So in this context the humor follows along with someone who is drunk -- then the cynicism is punctuated into some philosophical rambling, right? Wrong, me who likes to predict the direction of a poem through language. The next line is actually pretty disarming and a bit pathetic, "Bland and warm, and a little butter for my bread." Destitute, something -- anything to drink. And so the shift in the poem trains me as a reader to expect, well, detours.
The next four lines are cohesive and talk about someplace "up here" and the detours are still there, but not as humorous, but more in the surreal vein. There's the simle of comparing ice cracking to a knucklebone which is an auditory comparison, then there's a more tactile one (other than ice) with "a windblown paradise of dunes and hula trees" and so in these sections the images intermingle with each other even though they are slightly opposite and slightly surreal to create a picture of "Up here" (insert symbol here -- maybe Heavan, or Canada).
And through these images the speaker announces, "But I keep the cold / close to me." The line break is kind of redundant -- what's stated after the break is basically the same as the above. And I think, for me, I'm so used to looking for detours in this poem, I was expecting something else. Well, "I take it naked into my bed." Is more of a visual confusion -- what the cold represents I see, but naked -- my mind focuses on the speaker rather than the concept. Maybe because I'm a bit perverted that way, but also there's the idea of "emotionally" naked which brings the poem to a sense of the sentiment that, if further explored, would be somewhat cringe-worthy for me.
But the poem makes another detour with the last three lines, "Above the fireplace, kings go down on their knees, / Rich gifts laid before the babe, when all he wants / Is his skinny mother, whose only miracle is milk." So the allusion to the birth of Jesus Christ -- something warm and wanting human things "miracle is milk" can be compared to the speaker who is, presumably, alone with the cold. There's the current real with the conceptual feel (speaker) versus the conceptual wanting the real (baby Jesus).
Note, I didn't say role reversal -- none of that, more of expectations and what "gifts" are actually there -- a bag full of detours, misdirection, cynicism, sentimentality, and loneliness.