Original poem reprinted online here: "Tabula Rasa" by Matthew Wimberley
Originally read: November 8, 2013
More information about the Poet: Matthew Wimberley
Tabula Rasa -- Blank Slate
Once understanding the title, then the whole poem unfolds. The only thing I don't know is why the use of Latin? Or maybe if the title was "Blank Slate" then there would be too much emotional weight which would overly foreshadow the poem.
In any case, the title plays into the first part of the poem, an exposition:
He still remembers how to move
sandpaper with the wood grain,
push back years of weariness
and start again.
This is the introduction of the other and note that the first line has to deal with "remembering"; also note that since the beginning is a blank slate, the exposition focuses on what the other remembers, which then leads to what the other forgets which is:
him strip away lacquer, deep maple
colored jelly pushed off of edges
and pooled on the floor.
The "I" speaker. I think at this point the foreshadowing of the poem comes to a close, so what's left to uncover? It's not that the speaker exists, rather the process the "he does" and the speaker writes about.
From the encyclopedic, "The smell / of chemicals eating at paint," which expands into the simile, "the surface looks like chalk dust / or the shoulder blade of some extinct mammal / in a museum" The images and flow lead to this idea of the "he" uncovering something "like a paleontologist pushing / dirt in the badlands" which adds a sense of irony to the piece as what he uncovers is forgotten.
Meanwhile, what the speaker uncovers is the history of the "he" -- "His own bones ready / for the earth. Hips replaced. Knees rebuilt. Man / made heart." Note that when the speaker intrudes about the he there's a terseness behind the body. Short sentences as though to just state a fact out of frustration which culminates to these lines.
[...] he lets the polyurethane gives itself
to the wood and looks over to me.
Who are you? I give my best fake smile until he
sighs and goes back to work,
Pretty plain language for a complex emotions going on. This is the strength of the poem. That there's complex language when discussing clearing the wood by describing the process and "polyurethane" but when the language goes to an "actual" connection, one side doesn't understand, while the other knows too much., "Eighty-six years don't / disappear all at once." A bit sentimental, but I feel this is earned (sort of -- my gauge for sentimentality is a little sensitive).
And irony comes at the end, "Brushes / washed and put away, so only the table remains." Tabula Rasa -- an empty table that is finished by the father who remembers to finish, but not the speaker (presumably the son).