Monday, May 08, 2006

Louis McKee in Rattle

You can find the following poem by Louis McKee in the current issue of Rattle, vol. 11, no.2, p. 47:


When I was young I left
my new kid gloves on a bus
coming home from school,
said they must have fallen
from my pockets--my mother
didn't want to hear that
I hated gloves, that I liked cold
hands, fingers, and pockets
they fit into better. I had a cap;
this was years later--I wore it
everywhere, and one day walking
down the avenue, for no reason
at all, I took it off and threw it
into the open window of a bus
that was passing by. I cursed,
later, its being missing,
but that was all part of it,
preparing for loss. Everything,
sooner or later, goes--
finding a bus heading somewhere.

Louis McKee

I find it very poignant how the child in this poem prefers the feeling of "cold hands, fingers" to the security of warm gloves. He already has a sense at this young age that he can't get attached to them, because sooner or later they will be lost. So he beats fate to the punch and leaves them on the bus, perhaps feeling that if he controls the loss--if he chooses when they will be gone--then the loss will be less painful.

As an adult, the narrator still tries to trump fate by purposely tossing away his hat, again choosing a bus. He regrets it and curses "its being missing," but still prefers to be in a state of dealing with loss than to be simply waiting for loss to take him by surprise.

This feeling of the "untrustworthiness" of life is familiar to me, and perhaps many of us can relate to the narrator's desire to sieze some small control over his circumstances. Sometimes we end relationships because we can see the end coming, but it is too painful to let the final days play out. Perhaps we quit a job we like because we see the pink slips coming, and we want to avoid the experience of a lay-off. My brother loves computer games, but he often won't finish them because he can't bear for them to be over.

Loss is inevitable, but painful. Surely it is not possible to prevent it. Is it futile to try to control the tiny losses we see coming?


Anonymous said...

I am more intrigued with your interpretation of the poem than the poem itself. I think you just explained why I don't want a puppy.

danny said...

Ah, the feeling of loss – the realization that, someday, everything will end or go away is more excruciating than losing someone or something unexpectedly...

pseudonym said...

Or not. Could comfort be found in the close? Maybe it isn;t even loss. Could just be change. Change and discomfort. Not always thing to be avoided.

MB said...

I think we all anticipate losses, large and small, to some extent. They're inevitable. But to close off to them is to close off to a very rich part of life. Doors close but they also open.

Gilbert Koh said...

Despite the title of the poem and the express reference to "loss" in the poem itself -

in a curious way, I find myself thinking of this poem in terms of "freedom" more than anything else.

The chap doesn't want to be tied down - he wants his freedom - but he's aware that the kind of freedom he has in mind necessarily entails "loss", because he needs to abandon the things that would otherwise tie him down.

In fact, he's preparing for the day that he grows up and leaves home ("finding a bus heading somewhere"), thereby gaining freedom - his mother and himself will then be "lost" to each other, but that's "all part of it, preparing for loss".

MB said...

Interesting point, Gilbert!

Martyn said...

It really aches as a kid when you lose something important to you. I think growing up with animals is really valuable for children, a means by which to be introduced to finite nature of our lives and the accompanying shadow of loss. A wonderful piece of work.

Billy said...

this poems defines life real well. it is powerful. it is truth.

GEL said...

I enjoyed your interpretation of the poem and found it more engrossing than the poem itself.

I feel the poem is also an independent spirit as opposed to the confines of rules a dutiful child follows. Interesting piece. As to your question whether it's futile to try to control the losses we see coming?

I feel loss is a necessary part of life. One needs to feel loss to grow. Sometimes we need to have some control if it's possible, but other times we need to let it be, let life take its course and learn from that. However sad or devastating losses are, we grown richer and wiser through the experience.

Amy said...


I can't help but laugh at your not wanting a puppy. Caring for pets is indeed a poignant situation, ultimately about gain and loss. I suppose all relations are ultimately like that.


It's possible that fear of loss is worse than loss itself. Depends on the loss, I suppose.


Yes, I think that you hit on something with change. Loss is required to create change, and perhaps the narrator tossed his hat away in an attempt ot create some sort of change in his life.


I believe that you're right about accepting loss, although I can't say that I'm very good at it.


I appreciate your optimistic take on this poem. Perhaps the loss of the gloves and hat symbolize the necessary separation between mother and child, the growth of the child into a man.


God, yes. I lost so many cats growing up, and a dog. I'm glad I had them, but I still grieve for them decades later.


It does allude to a great truth, one that we are all managing to touch on. I have a postmodernist view that we can't quite capture and define exactly what the essence is in this poem, but we are all touching a part of it.


I suppose the effect of loss is determined by the nature of the loss itself and the nature of the person experiencing it. I feel I have experienced losses that just plain hurt. I don't know if I'm wiser from them, but I like to think so.