I‘ve made no secret that my formal training is as a student of language and literature. As I move back to doing the kinds of things that got me into that study–reading and thinking about what I read–it seems fitting that I would return, too, to some of the exercises that accompany those things. It seems fitting that I would return to writing about the things I read, using that writing to shape my thinking and evidence it, and a poem posted by someone who has paid attention to my work seems a good thing on which to focus my attention.
The piece in question, Luna’s “Poem #264,” is a free-verse composition in three uneven stanzas. Adopting a first-person perspective, the poem describes a performative reaction to being stabbed, one occurring after a coarse self-healing and catharsis, one juxtaposed with enacting betrayal or violence in return. The first stanza details the performance in six lines, couching it in terms of “juggling the knives” with which the narrator is stabbed and using them hopefully to earn money or to facilitate conversation about injury. The second describes the unskilled self-healing–the narrator notes that s/he “made my stitches rough”–and the catharsis, giving four lines to it. The third, a scant three lines, articulates the expected response of returning the injuries.
What emerges quickly to my reading is that the narrator has been betrayed. S/he notes “the knives stabbed in my / back,” and being stabbed in the back is a common reference to being betrayed, as it bespeaks having trusted someone enough to allow them into a blind spot from which they can strike deeply and with little fear of reprisal. Working from that, I read the poem as the narrator stating his/her desire to show off the injuries and their means of being inflicted, to appropriate them to some other purpose than was intended. They are, after all, “supposed to” be sent back whence they came, but they are instead made objects of delight or mockery, given how street performers are often regarded. This does not mean the injuries did not occasion anger, as the second stanza makes clear. But it does mean that the narrator is reclaiming the injuries inflicted; they are still clear (“I’ve earned my scars and how / much blood I’ve lost pulling these blades out” makes evident that the effects of the injuries linger), but they are the narrator’s, now, and not those of the narrator’s injurers.
Morbid as the imagery of knives, bleeding out, and roughly done stitches might be, the poem seems ultimately to offer a hopeful resolution. The narrator does suffer as a result of having been injured, yes, but s/he is able to make those injuries into something else. And if it may be permitted to read a bit past the poem, it might be hoped that the audiences who see the narrator juggle, who stop to listen or throw in a dime, might learn lessons from the performance that they can use to avoid hurts of their own. And so may we all.
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