Delusion

poem by Samantha Lê, music by Ryan Loyd

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach

Delusion

Carried a single branch inside my river,
downstream through milky lashes,
tattooed lips and deceitful thighs.
We are unreliable and cruel like the water.
Carried you into goodbye fingers
of spicy savage lickers…  carried you
like a burden… like a shameful secret.
You are the life, and I am the delusion.

Do you know me, or I, you?
The irresistible melancholy of the miracles
that have soiled the currents ruptures
like stardust above the greatest cycle of life.

Time will eventually trot away
like dogs on parade. Love will scorn
like the mundane minutes of a lifeless day.
Without the right words to say,
the right hip sway, I am not
the right person to convince you to stay.
I can only promise you that I will hate you
just as much as I love you today.

~ by Samantha Lê
With a special thank you to Mr. Ryan Loyd, friend and fellow 312.
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Copyright © 2017 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

 

“Border Crossing” by Samantha Lê published in The Minnesota Review

In “Border Crossing,” the speaker of the poem laments about being labeled an “illegal.” She remembers a life, before the change in geography, where she was a complete person, “but between the leaving and entering they changed how they look at me—objects once labeled can’t be relabeled, you know.” Somehow in the border crossing, her existence was reduced to one word, a word that carries with it all the weight of past and future discriminations.

photo of woman walk through pathway

Photo by Dương Nhân on Pexels.com

Border Crossing.” The Minnesota Review (Virginia Tech, Duke University Press), Durham, NC, Issue No. 90, Spring 2018, pp. 14. Publishing contemporary poetry and fiction as well as reviews, critical commentary, and interviews of leading intellectual figures, The Minnesota Review curates smart, accessible collections of progressive new work.

“Fourteen” by Samantha Lê is published in Melbourne’s The Suburban Review #8

Suburban#8

I’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Fourteen” in The Suburban Review #8, Summer 2017 issue.  Available now online.

About “Fourteen

The sonnet is one of my favorite forms—a compact love song that packs a punch.  In “Fourteen,” I used this traditional form to explore a contemporary subject.  This poem is about a fourteen year-old girl whom, motivated by boredom, decides to experiment sexually without grasping the magnitude of such acts or her own developing sexual powers.  [read poem, page 27]

About The Suburban Review

The Suburban Review is a literary collective based in Melbourne, Australia.  A quarterly digital journal of short fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and art.  Digital issues are AU$7.00 each.

 

“Making Love on the Roof” by Samantha Lê is published in The Boiler Journal

I’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Making Love on the Roof” Summer 2017 issue of The Boiler Journal.  This issue is available free online.

About “Making Love on the Roof

On a city rooftop, two people try to find momentary relief from loneliness by surrendering their bodies to each other—to the possibility of something different.  Away from the rooftop, the man writes poetry about a woman named Ruth, and the woman makes mock turtle stew; but on the roof they play the parts of strangers clutching to connect with someone in the world.  [read poem]

About The Boiler Journal

Began by a group of writers at Sarah Lawrence College, The Boiler Journal is an online quarterly that publishes fresh and lively works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from emerging and established authors.

“Conversations with the Diocese of the Desert” by Samantha Lê is published in 3Elements Literary Review

3elements-S17-coverI’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Conversations with the Diocese of the Desert” in issue no. 15 of 3Elements Literary Review, Summer 2017.  This issue is available free online.

About “Conversations with the Diocese of the Desert”

For this issue, contributors were tasked to use the words “temple,” “yard sale,” and “visitation” in a poem.  In Biblical writings, a visitation is defined as the divine investigation or inspection of person’s character and deeds with a view to apportioning to them their due lot, whether of reward or of chastisement; divine dispensation of mercy or of punishment. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)  Inspired by this word and a strange dream about abandoned lawn chairs in the desert, I created a narrative about a woman who goes to the desert to seek answers.  On a lawn chair, facing the dawning of a new day and a person whom she believes to be holy, she asks all her relevant and irrelevant questions, but receives no holy answers in return.  Discovery, after all, is only achieved through repeated self-questioning.  [page 47]

About 3Elements Review

3Elements Literary Review is an independent literary journal, publishing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and photography. Please show your support by visiting the website.

“Summer Sale” by Samantha Lê published in Common Ground Review

I’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Summer Sale” in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Common Ground Review.

About “Summer Sale”

In this poem, the place—a strange antique shop located in an aging downtown of a forgotten town—is the subject.  The poem points the reader’s attention to the blue-colored objects in the shop and around town—from cobalt plates to tungsten steps to cyan lights, everything blue is priced for a summer sale.  It’s as if the town is trying to rid itself of the “blues.”

To create a sense of nostalgia for a bygone time, I used an iambic pentameter with a traditional rhyme scheme (ababcc).  When writing in metrical verse, I usually employ internal rhymes, slant rhymes and enjambments in order to avoid the hard-hitting repetition of sounds that can come across as sing-song and/or passé, which tends to turn the contemporary reader off of traditional verse.  [page 50]

About Common Ground Review

Affiliated with Western New England University, Common Ground Review publishes well-crafted poems that surprise and illuminate, amuse and inform, and challenge.  Issues are $10 each.

Samantha Lê ~ Featured Poet in the Aurorean, Spring/Summer 2017 issue

I’m honored to be a Featured Poet of the Aurorean Spring/Summer 2017 issue, and that my poems “La Comédie,” “Tongue Tied,” and “Your Absence” were selected for publication.

[This issue of the Aurorean is now available for purchase.]

About “La Comédie”

A villanelle.  The refrains in this French form create a sing-song quality that contrasts with the bleakness of the poem’s subject matter: the search for relief from loneliness.  I made the allusion to Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie humaine to speak to the superficiality of  social ambitions in a world where other more urgent challenges exist.  [page 60]

About “Tongue Tied”

The speaker of the poem laments about being devoured by her lover, yet she accepts it and goes along with it, continuing to insist on “nothing” until she manages to forget what she tries to deny.  [page 61]

About “Your Absence”

A woman waits for her man to return from war.  His absence is an oppressive presence in her life.  Haunted by memories of him, she spends nights reassuring herself that he’s still alive by combing through fatality lists for his name.  There’s a silent sacrifice and courage in the act waiting that’s seldom addressed.  When it comes to understanding the intangible subject of war, a writer must find a way to make the political personal.  Only one story can be heard at a time in order for the collective sounds of all the hearts breaking to have an impact.  [page 62]

About the Aurorean

One of New England’s premier poetry journals, The Aurorean, an Encircle Publications, is a biannual poetry journal.  Focusing on poetry of New England and poetry of the seasons, The Aurorean has been published continually since 1995, featuring the work of over 1,300 poets worldwide.  Digital issues are $3 each.  Printed issues are $11 each.  [visit website]

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Yellow Fruit Bowl

Your half eaten apple lies
rotten—
a mutilated carcass—
in our yellow fruit bowl.
I can’t throw it out,
this oxygen-infested fruit,
because you still breathe
within it.

And I haven’t picked the fruits
like you’ve asked me;
your sun-burn
apples and oranges still hang limply
from their branches in our yard;
waiting…
as I wait,
for your hands.

Eighty-seven fruits
still breathing,
still living,
though you’re gone.

The trees outside have shed
ninety-four leaves today.
Inside my head,
countless summers
have collapsed
upon one another—yet I am still here,
still breathing—

since this afternoon
when I laid your body
among the roots of those fruit trees,
and kissed your smile good-bye.

The earth, and all her warm sorrows,
she gets to hold you now.
And I am still here,

still emptied,
still breathing,
still living
though you’re gone…

 

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

Dear Husband

She is your daughter.
Your tongue flaps,
like a catfish dragged
from muddy water
on pointed hook,
between her iron jaws.
Jaws that snap shut
into the flat line
of your EKG the day
your hairy heart stopped.
Each time she smiles your cigarette-
stained teeth grind me in the face,
daring me to hold her gaze.
She spits curses, anger
and obscenities; your words,
like anvils, still pounding
upon my weary head.
Your coal-like eyes accusing
from beneath those lashes—
still aware of my every thought.
She bare your crooked nose,
your wicked words, your twisted
thoughts, and hammer hand.
It is your snake-skin palm
across my face,
once—
and again.

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

On “The Hanging Family Tree”

samantha_le-locci2Sometimes, I go through the exercise of explicating my own poem.  I find that it sharpens my critical skills and allows me to look at my work more objectively.  This is especially helpful when I don’t know how to finish a poem. I hope that this post will help you with your own writing.

–Samantha Lê

The Hanging Family Tree
–by Samantha Lê

I was Januaried, Februaried,
Marched—father’s furious footsteps felt lonely
down the hospital hallways.

I lunged forward;
skidded sideways—wrong decisions made all day.

Father watched and waited
six extra weeks for a son— hung his hopes on the fillings
in a sticky bun.

Five fingers fisted tight.
Five fingers reached for his to grab. Ten toes upright
like frantic crab legs searching

for the sapient sand. Two eyes opened, absorbed the sun,
but not a son.

Father took
a crooked look and said: I know
what to do to you—

dressed me
in dirty drags to imitate a boy, taught me to love
boxes instead of toys.

My skin map shrunk like a banana peel. I took rice paper, ink,
wrote peekaboo parts to cover the pink.

 

“The Hanging Family Tree” employs what Robert Pinsky, in his book The Sounds of Poetry,  calls “like and unlike sounds” in order to intensify the meaning of key thematic lines and to create shifts in the musical effects of the poem. “In a way parallel to how enjambment is a place where syntax might stop, but pushes forward instead, the shift away from a sound may mark a moment when things might chime, but depart instead.” (Pinsky 87) Repeated sounds are used so intensely in stanzas four and six that their absence in the other stanzas becomes an important factor in the musical undertone, which creates tension in the narrative and sets the emotional tone for the poem.

The reader may not understand or even notice the differences between like and unlike sounds, but they can be experienced and heard when the poem is read aloud. The complex audible presence of likeness and difference in sounds helps to emphasize the key moments, providing the reader cues on how to interpret the narrative in the poem, thus, enhances the reader’s understanding of its meaning.

One of the differences in sounds comes from the utilization of contrasting root words. Even if the reader does not know or recognize Germanic roots, which are plain, short and stubby, from Latin roots, which are longer and more clinical, the reader can still intuitively hear the difference in their sounds. In this poem, German root sounding words, such as “bun,” “crab” and “sun,” are paired with Latin root sounding words, such as “Februaried,” “hospital” and “banana,” to produce a sonic distinction between what Pinsky refers to as “crunchy and soft” words. “While the phrases involved sounds that are similar physically, the sounds of the words, in a more figurative or emotional sense of ‘sound,’ are in contrast.” (Pinsky 88)

Given the many Latinate words, the first stanza reads more smoothly and thus reads faster than the sixth stanza. Compare “I was Januaried, Februaried,/Marched—father’s furious footsteps felt lonely/down the hospital hallways,” which reads liquidly, with “Father took/a crooked look and said: I know/what to do to you,” which contains more abrupt and choppy Germanic words, making the lines more awkward and difficult to read aloud. This contrast in sounds produces an inconsistency in rhythm that helps to counter the iambic meter.

The iambic meter, though not dominant, is present throughout the poem. It acts as the underlying pulse of the poem to move the reader forward in the narrative. One can observe bits of iambic meter in the lines: “Five fingers fisted tight./Five fingers reached for his to grab” and “He dressed me/in dirty drags to imitate a boy.” Although the iambic meter does not appear consistently, and the poem’s rhythmic cadences are not often iambic, an iambic meter can still be felt beneath the poems variable rhythms.

However, there are some lines where the iambic pulse is reversed, and a strong trochaic meter emerges, creating tension in the poem. An example of the trochaic meter can be seen at the beginning of the poem where the mood and setting is established: “father’s furious footsteps felt lonely/down the hospital hallways.” The trochee is consistent and strong again at the moment the child is born. Butted right up against the iambs in the sixth stanza is: “Ten toes upright/like frantic crab.” This subtle reversal in meter signals an importance glimpse into the father’s turmoil state of mind.

At the same time, words of long and short duration appear jammed together to further add to the richness of the rhythm and sounds. In the last stanza, “skin map,” “rice” and the first syllable in “paper” are examples of long sounds, which are wedged against the shorter, more abrupt, stubby sounds of “shrunk” and “ink” to create a stop-and-go motion. By varying the usage of long and short syllables, a hurried pace is achieved through parts of the poem, while other parts require a slow approach. The varying of longer and shorter line lengths also aid in setting pace throughout poem.

The poem’s emotional tone is not only produced through sounds, meter and rhythm but also through alliteration, end rhymes, internal rhymes and the application of varying line lengths.

The poem deploys alliteration, such as “father’s furious footsteps felt” and “five fingers fisted,” at strategically placed clusters throughout the poem that add playfulness. The harrowing subject of a discontented father who decides to reshape the life of his daughter to match his own agenda in the narrative is hidden behind the playful, child-like diction, which creates an unsettling lightness around a heavy and serious theme.

The poem also features ends rhymes that add a folktale quality to the narrative. Though end rhymes appear throughout the poem, such as “Januaried” and “lonely,” “tight” and “upright,” and “ink” and “pink,” the sing-song effects often created by end rhymes are muted by enjambments combined with the utilization varying line lengths. The strategically placed line breaks act as a counterbalance against the end rhymes’ overpowering sonic effects. The balancing act between rhymes and line breaks achieves in adding a complexity to what Pinky calls the “audible web” of the poem. Aside from enjambments, internal rhymes are also employed within individual lines, such as “took/a crooked look” and “skidded sideways—wrong decisions made all day,” to create even richer and more energetic sounds that are then contrasted against the expected sounds of the end rhymes, adding yet another layer to the audible web.

In this poem, the rhymes play a part in both the sonic and emotional tones, but like line breaks and enjambment, they also drive the narrative of the poem for the reader. The packing together of internal rhymes in stanza six: “Father took/a crooked look and said: I know/what to do to you” signals the reader with sonic cues that a significant point in the narrative is being discussed. This is one of the voltas in the poem where the father, though dissatisfied with the gender of his child, has decided to make the best of the situation by turning his daughter into the boy for whom he had been waiting to have.

The resolution of the narrative is also marked by strong sonic cues. The last stanza in the poem is littered with “k” sounds: “My skin map shrunk like a banana peel. I took rice paper, ink,/wrote peekaboo parts to cover the pink.” The consonance creates a hacking sensation when the lines are read aloud, imitating the sounds  of the girl’s emotions and identity being choked back as she transforms into the person that her father wants.

In this poem, meter, variety in line lengths, rhymes, alliteration and the strategic juxtaposition of “like and unlike sounds” are employed to create a push and pull effect upon each other, building the poem’s sonic tension, a tension which mirrors the tension in the poem’s narrative. The ratcheting up of tension drives the poem’s narrative resolution to the moment the young girl surrenders, reshaping herself to fit into the space that her father has constructed for her.

(“The Hanging Family Tree” was published in Pinion Journal, Summer 1011) 

 

Searching for Religion in Iced Tea

I.

The voice of god stomps through centuries
and blood baths—like persistent wild
flowers sprouting through the cracks
of fallen civilizations—

to reach my ears.  It is as soothing
as a summer afternoon in the
Arizona desert—with naked skin charred
and scorched by blades of sun.

His holy third eye blinks
to reveal gray caterpillar lashes that poke
the sky to beckon shapeless clouds,
leaps of faith, and poetry.

His bone-dry toes are crammed
inside crushed velvet slippers,
like crocodile heads resting
on goose feather pillows.

The shadows of his rubber band fingers dance
on the white walls of my ice cubes,
as drunken strippers slither
on hot, oily floors.  On my back,

I search for familiar faces
in the faceless clouds
only to discover my own reflection,
only to find my own ugliness…

 

II.

With broken wings and untie shoes, a headless
ostrich sprints across the Australian desert
and explodes inside my head.
I have arrived!

I am the intestine of a gigantic snake
after he has just swallowed a chicken whole:
all feathery, slimy and full.
I am nothing.

I am the dog that wags its tail at strangers.
I must wear my plate across my chest
to remember my Master’s name.
I remove my head

and rest it safely in the secret place
where all lost gray socks must go to die.
Then lay my sweaty body on wings of butterflies
and grin at god.

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

 

On “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost

 

Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” is constructed using a terza rima form. Consisting of fourteen lyrical lines written in iambic pentameter, terza rima is a verse form composed of three-line stanzas (or tercets) with interlocking rhymes. The second line of each tercet establishes the rhyme for the following tercet. This supplies the poem with a common thread, a way to link the stanzas.

The rhyme scheme for this poem is: aba, bcb, cdc, dad, aa, which is a slightly variation from the traditional terza rima rhyme scheme of aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ee. The variation helps to emphasize Frost’s intention to create a circular structure for the poem. And by repeating the first line “I have been one acquainted with the night” at the end of the poem, and rhyming “night” and “light” in the first stanza to “right” and “night” in the last couplet, Frost further creates a sense of continuation, a walking and searching sensation that moves through the poem and return the speaker and the reader to the beginning of the journey.

The terza rima is also found in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Similar to Dante’s journey through the three realms of the dead, the speaker in this poem is also taking a journey. The journey motif invites the reader to examine the three stages of conflict that the speaker experiences as he makes his way through the wasteland of the modern era. Stage one takes the speaker through the cityscape; its unfamiliar setting represents the speaker’s sense of alienation, a product of his physical and spiritual distance from the life he once knew. Stage two takes place in the speaker’s awareness of the lonely walk he is taking, which represents his isolation from his fellow man. And stage three is the speaker’s journey through the night. The speaker’s acquaintance with the night symbolizes a poet in crisis, reacting to the changes to his craft brought about by Modernism.

From the first stanza the theme of alienation is strongly evident:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

The setting of a cityscape is unusual for Frost since most of his poems are set in the rural, pastoral landscape of New England. This suggests an unfamiliar, out of place feeling, which the speaker is experiencing from having found himself in a place he does not know or understand; and although he has an acquaintance with the city lights and city lanes, the city is not home. To add to the feeling of estrangement and alienation, the speaker, having had “outwalked the furthest city light,” is finding himself even further on the outside. He has gone beyond the safety of the city limits, which echoes Dante’s journey. The speaker has wandered off the “path” and gone astray. But then having “walked out in rain,” he finds himself walking “back [again] in rain,” going through an exhausting act of trying to leave something behind, only having to return to it without having found any answers.

The second stanza begins with “I have looked down the saddest city lane.” The speaker looks down this lane but does not take it. Is it an act of giving up? Or is the speaker hesitant to discover or know his new surrounding?

The word lane can also be likened to a country lane, but instead, this is an unknown lane in an unfamiliar landscape where even the lanes are defamiliarized and sad.

The speaker’s only connection to nature in this place of estrangement is the moon. She is his only companion; however, she is out of reach at “an unearthly height.” She, too, alienates him in her own way.

antique-clockAnd further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Though the moon is the only positive image in the poem, she neither guides nor judges. The moon, the keeper of time, “proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right,” suggesting that time simply flows; it is indifferent to the speaker’s journey.

The alienation of the cityscape creates a profound sense of isolation, which is represented not just in the images but also in the construction of the lines. Every sentence in this poem begins with “I.” There are seven lines and seven “I”s. “I have been one acquainted with the night…I have passed by the watchman on his beat…I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet, etc….” Inside the setting of a vast modern world troubled by changes, the “I” draws attention to the singular entity, the solitary existence of man.

The only person the speaker encounters on his walk is in the fifth line, “the watchman on his beat.”

I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

The speaker and the watchman do not make eye-contact. The dropping of the eyes can be interpreted as shame, but I think in this case, it is about the speaker’s unwillingness to reveal his true self to the watchman. The watchman’s vocation is one of loneliness and isolation. He walks his beat alone. He knows the city and the night; this is knowledge that the speaker does not have. The isolation felt by both men is briefly interrupted by their chance meeting, however, neither can escape his own loneliness, and so they pass without connecting. This is also a commentary on the nature of modern city people who are so accustomed to solitude that they can no longer connect with one another.

By the third stanza, the speaker is alone again, so alone, in fact, that when he stops walking, there are no other footsteps to be heard. It is interesting that this is the only part of the poem where enjambment is used. Though the speaker has stopped, the lines are hurrying forward, creating a feeling of uneasiness and urgency.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

The speaker’s loneliness is further amplified by the “interrupted cry,” which comes “from another street.” It isn’t intended for him. It isn’t there to call him “back or say good-bye.” The speaker continues his journey, realizing that no one is missing him or wishing for his return. Though the city is populated with lives, none of those lifelines are connected to him.

On a philosophical level, I believe this poem is also an allegory for the poet’s struggles with his craft. As a poet, Frost is claiming to be “acquainted with the night,” which are the forms and subjects of his poems, but he does not possess true knowledge of them. The walk represents Frost’s exploration and experimentations in response to the changes taking place in Modernism.

In having “outwalked the furthest city light,” Frost strays from the “path” of traditions. “The watchman” represents a traditional poet whom he admires, and meeting this poet along the way, he is ashamed of the choices he has made and cannot meet this poet’s eyes. He is unable and “unwilling to explain” his need to explore new horizons. The “interrupted cry” from the distant is the collective voice of his contemporaries who have embraced new subjects and forms. He hears it, but realizes that the cry is not intended for him.

“I have walked out in rain” can also be interpreted as the poet’s admittance to having succumbed to experimentations, but he comes “back in rain” and decides to return to poetic tradition. And by starting and ending the poem with “I have been one acquainted with the night,” it can be concluded that Frost has come full circle. Yes, he was once “acquainted with the night,” but that is now in the past.

Though he knows that making a return to traditional verse would alienate him from the modernist landscape of free verse poetry and isolate him from his contemporaries, when Frost finds himself looking “down the saddest lane” of modern poetry, he does not take it. “The moon” acts as the poet’s inner voice, reminding him to come back to what he knows. Realizing that “the time was neither wrong nor right” for change, he stays true to the sound of his own voice rather than allowing himself to be swayed by the currents of time and culture. This decision eventually leads him back to the beginning, back to traditions. As the result, the construction of this poem in traditional verse with its rigid and difficult rhyme scheme is Frost taking a stance in favor of tradition amidst the changes of Modernism.

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