Sunday, October 29, 2006



at birth you were handed a ticket

beneath every journey the ticket to this
journey in one direction

or say the body

is a conveyor belt, moving in one direction
slower or swifter than sight

at birth

you were handed a ticket, indecipherable
rectangle forgotten in your pocket

or say you stand upon a moving walkway

as if all you fear
is losing your

balance moving in one direction

beneath every journey the ticket to this
journey in one direction

--Frank Bidart, from Star Dust

Great line breaks here, esp. between lines twelve and thirteen: the irony of losing nothing more than your balance, yet the poem implies that balance is what life is. Keeping your balance while life moves under you, always forward, never back. Also masterful is the way the poem is composed of only a couple of lines, really: the first three lines set up a sort of template, and the poem moves along by complicating, reorganizing, and adding to the words of the first three lines. These words are broken up, rearranged in various patterns. The lack of punctuation really helps the poem move as well: a reader can stop at the line break, or read through, and the poem's/line's meanings shift and enlarge or compress. There's just the one comma, at dead center of the poem in line 8--it separates the word "indecipherable" from the rest of the line. We don't know where we're going, really, do we?

And the use of two voices, or possibly two streams of consciousness, signified by the use of italics, is also interesting. The italicized sections read through coherently in a forward motion, with the use of the phrase 'or say' as a refrain--as though there are alternatives, although the poem doesn't really present any in terms of the interpretation of its central metaphor. The phrase serves to highlight alternate ways of stating the central metaphor, but the thrust of the metaphor is all the same--birth is a beginning, life is a journey, and death a destination--to compare the poem's energy to the liturgy for the High Holidays. The non-italicized sections don't really read through in a forward motion. In a sense they stall the poem, force the act of contemplation on a poem that would otherwise enact a moving walkway. Lines 2 & 3 serve as a refrain in their entirety at the end of the poem. These lines highlight the metaphor of the ticket--a rectangle like a grave? The word 'beneath' also suggests this--and the non-italicized portions also run beneath the italicized ones, in the formal pattern established at the beginning.

A little creepy, but very profound and moving.

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