BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Massachusetts poet J. Lorraine Brown has used an unusual image in "Tintype on the Pond, 1925." This poem, like many others, offers us a unique experience, presented as a gift, for us to respond to as we will. We need not ferret out a hidden message. How many of us will recall this little scene the next time we see ice skates or a Sunday-dinner roast?
Tintype on the Pond, 1925
Believe it or not,
the old woman said,
and I tried to picture it:
the polished white ribs of a roast
tied to her boots with twine,
the twine coated with candle wax
so she could glide
across the ice--
skating on bones.
Reprinted from "Eclipse" by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) 2004 by J. Lorraine Brown. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
This would make a nice 2 minute pop song written by someone like Paul Simon perhaps; it's very singable (I just tried it with guitar). We can rid of the line "uninterrupted" which is not necessary, and it's OK. "My mother, skating on bones" makes a cute refrain. I like the way we go from "the old woman" to "a girl" to "my mother." The development here is swift and the whole thing is nicely focused, and it hints at poverty and the ingenuity which may arise from it, but without self-pity or preachiness.
I don't know why anyone would want to "ferret out a hidden message" here. It doesn't seem to call for that. This is one of those poems which I would not objectively rank very high, but which charms me nonetheless. I could easily leave it out of my anthology of great poems, but I feel no desire to do it any harm (save to lop off that one line).
Of course Jimmy might accuse me of being "stuck" in 1925. (Luv ya, Jim)