Original poem reprinted online here: "Blues" by Alice Bolin
Originally read: October 3, 2013
More information about the Poet: Alice Bolin
The opening three lines set a typical narrative response with the focus on the setting, "A train fills our horizon, boxcars fan out / into embrace, it wide order. A moving west. / To make no attempt at an index" then the switch happens with the anaphora of wrong, "wrong girl, wrong summer, wrong car" which indicates a shift, right?
The listing of "wrong" feels more nostalgic, then regret, and just like "Blues" there's a delicate play of regret and wanting to go back to the past, "We chased us from this coast and the radio / mildewed, tin songs palpable as maps." And even though mildewed could be an image of decay (foreshadow actually), here the poem starts to become tangible -- rather than an expanse the details is close, event with tone, "How do you like that!"
But then the poem shifts to the expanse again, "To search the interstate / and find everything fugitive. Touch / the radial dial light like a Ouija board." Note the image always go back to "wrong" with fugitive and perhaps Ouija (dependent on outlook I suppose), but note the next line, "and we give it our wishes." Nostalgic.
[...] Is it normal
in these mountains to see a wild turkey?
Is it normal to wear a dress
that describes your skin?
Now these rhetorical questions kind of come off as creepy, well, the dress that describes your skin, isn't the most pleasant of descriptions to me; however, note how these questions deter from the "we" narrative built up here as though to force a separation, but, "Meanwhile / we spend daylight avoiding neighbors, / making simple escapes," and I contend the the rhetorical questions are those "simple escapes" just like the "oujia" because they are out there.
So why this push and pull based on nostalgia? I think this strengthens the regret which, based on the title, will come. "Don't worry dear, a ballad is just / a slo-o-ow song." This seems personal like how the we "wait hours humming / at a railroad crossing--good thing a summer / swell then shortens."
Then the list sequence, "Continents, / drugstore breakfasts, our names / and nightly bodies" seems more like a comparison on how the poem is structured from the expanse to the personal with something that derails the expanse (escape) to the personal (nostalgia).
"In my mind it's already over." What makes the poem for me at the end is how clear the speaker is about things being over when the poem goes in a slew of different directions. It's kind of like "My mind's not right" in "Skunk Hour." But at the same time, the sincerity of the line is hard to pull off as a stand alone (the difference between "Blues" last line, and "Skunk Hour" mid line). I think if I read this poem twenty more times, the appeal and sincerity of the last line would wear off, maybe. But it's strong to me at this moment.