Wednesday, April 06, 2011

"Officemate" by Bryce Ellicott, from the anthology Life in Me Like Grass on Fire

As promised, here is Bryce Ellicott's poem from the Maryland Writers' Association's latest publication.


She was brown and sari-woven. Her chair
and mine rubbed backs and spoke in whispers.
The day came she pranced, ring flashing
in the halls. They moved to Norway faster
than you can drain a filing cabinet, inhale
a roomful of cake and goodbyes, and forget
to leave a forwarding address. Forlorn
in the way of office furniture left behind,
my chair is wounded to the very wheels.
It refuses even a squeak against the silence
once filled with vinyl-stroked confessions.

Bryce Ellicott
Life in Me Like Grass on Fire, p. 21
Used with permission of the author

We have a simple image of a woman, "brown and sari-woven," but all of the very sensual action between the speaker and her is portrayed through their chairs. They "rubbed backs and spoke in whispers"--already past tense, setting us up for something to break up this closeness. After the "sari-woven" subject departs, leaving no "forwarding address" and no chance of more communication with the speaker, we have common office imagery standing in for the inner life of the speaker: inhaled cake and goodbyes, a drained filing cabinet, forlorn furniture, a chair "wounded to the very wheels."

It's sad! This sad, sad chair! The poor chair is so devastated that it will not even squeak, where once it happily whispered. The brilliance of this metaphor is it allows the reader a depth of empathy for the speaker that I'm not sure we'd have if we actually saw the speaker. We get the lonely chair, the silence, the emptiness, and the wound. A metaphor shouldn't be just interesting or arresting imagery; it should facilitate an emotional connection between the reader and the experience of the poem. This does it for me.

I have a few other thoughts but I thought I'd throw them out as questions and see what you think. Why Norway, for example? What is the significance of the woman being "sari-woven?" What does this poem tell us about the experience of loss?

BTW--Check out Bryce Ellicott's fascinating blog about writing, sci-fi, astronomy, and other kinds of coolness


Chris said...

Amy, so glad to see Living Poetry is back in action!

I too was intrigued by the choice of "sari-woven" in the very first line. As a American in New England, it at once sets up an exotic tone, a dream of a far off land. The subject never really gets to visit, just gaze through the "whispsers" of chairs.

It leaves me longing -- makes feel this was a missed opportunity, as if the subject could have made something, but was afraid to speak up.

But then again, on a second read, I feel I am projecting much more than is really there -- perhaps it is just change and loss of familiarity...

Amy said...

I think there is great longing in this poem. The word "wounded" in particular speaks to loss and pain more than just to change.

Sari-woven is interesting, because it connotes not just a certain culture and difference to the speaker, but "woven" indicates that the woman is somehow wrapped up in that culture, sort of protected or shielded by it, perhaps even closed up or bound by it. It's a fascinating description.