Original poem reprinted online here: "Midnight Loon" by Arthur Sze
Originally read: April 18, 2013
More information about the Poet: Arthur Sze
New York Style Buddhist. That's what comes to mind when I read the bio for Arthur Sze, "'intersection of Taoist contemplation, Zen rock gardens and postmodern experimentation” by the critic John Tritica.'" New York Style isn't the only "experimental" style, but when I reread this poem, the shift of events, the observant tone, the sense of play, the style fits.
So first I should point out that the couplet lines shift in meaning and usage as the poem goes on. The first couplet focuses on the present with the burglars finding nothing of monetary value -- yet the shift in to comes in the next two stanzas when the left "imprints" of nothing behind, "laundry and bathroom lights on -- / they have fled themselves." Note how the shift changes quickly in the tense, and also the pronoun, "they have fled themselves" who do they refer to? The laundry? The burglars? And when are we?
Past me wrote, "humorous start -- even through force, they didn't find what they were looking for." To add on top of this The humor has a thoughtful quality to it -- the search and the shift to what's actually on informs the reader on a certain level of depth -- a tricky, I don't know how shallow, depth which is compounded with the focus from the sound image "pitch of a motorcycle," to a visual image of a "midnight garden."
The leaps go further when the simile jumps to "Japan" and how the garden after the thieves escape become further and further interpreted by the speaker, "ocean waves / in moonlight, whirlpool eddies, circular ripples -- / and nothing is quite what it appears to be." The jumps, the further usage of ambiguous pronouns, and the self explication without emotional tie to a "serious" event -- the more clear the poem is, the more mysterious it becomes.
But that's the interpretation, the present has simple actions like "unlatch the screen door" and a literal, "snake / slides under the weathered deck" The following semicolon compares the real with the real to bring a surreal interpretation. The speaker talks about the intent of the burglar as the speaker sees where the burglar broke through and comes up with this interpretation, "but no one / marks the poplars darker with thunder and rain." As though to breath a spiritual entity to the situation but humanize and belittle the burglar. It's as if to say -- things could be worse on a different plane of existence.
The last two couplets is a single sentence that focuses on the speaker watching and viewing whirlpools -- this kind of circular connection that looms overhead (yes, I used a sort a pun). But this sentiment still puzzles me," though there is no loon, / a loon calls out over the yard, over the water." Past me wrote, "loon -- everything in this poem counts on the connotation of this image -- sort of. 1) The speaker interposes the sound to the scene, 2) The speaker wants to hear the sound, 3) What does the sound mean?" Wrong approach past me. What does the image represent? Loneliness (emotional and physical), desolation, a call to a love not yet found -- these things are not there -- these emotions are not there. Only wanted in the mind.