Poetry

“I Am Writing This in My Head,
My Hands Inside Gloves That Don’t Match,”
by Silvina López Medin

 

I Am Writing This in My Head, My Hands Inside Gloves That Don’t Match

I lose at least one
from the pair per season
and hold on to the other, that single
glove left behind still contains the lost one.
That is to say
on the winter break I read Pascal Quignard,
in each image there’s a missing image,
says he, I add
in each sound there’s a missing sound,
say: my mother
how she, because of her hearing impairment,
is permanently reconstructing
sentences from fragments, isn’t that
writing? I am
walking the nine blocks back home
from the subway, it is -18 degrees
and I’ll never know
how to turn that into Fahrenheit or how
at times I focus on something so much as to become
something else. Gloves
prevent us from breaking apart,
gloves are not relevant in Buenos Aires
this cold does not exist
the kind that makes you turn not only your head
but your whole body just to look at
what’s coming. I did not write much
back there, just brought
a couple of summer images: my mother and I
at night standing in front of a white wall
killing mosquitoes; my mother,
my sons, I, in the backyard,
hurrying to take away the clothes from the clothes line
under light rain.

 

Watch the poet read this poem as part of the Emergence Poetry Pop-up series here.

“I Am Writing This in My Head, My Hands Inside Gloves That Don’t Match” is from Poem That Never Ends (Essay Press 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Silvina López Medin. Used by permission of the author and Essay Press. All rights reserved. Poem That Never Ends is or soon will be available to order here.Silvina López Medin was born in Buenos Aires and lives in New York. Her books of poetry include La noche de los bueyes (Madrid 1999), winner of the Loewe Foundation International Young Poetry Prize, Esa sal en la lengua para decir manglar (Buenos Aires 2014); That Salt on the Tongue to Say Mangrove, tr. Jasmine V. Bailey (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2021), 62 brazadas (Buenos Aires 2015), and Excursión (Buenos Aires 2021). Excursion was selected by Mary Jo Bang as the winner of the Oversound Chapbook Prize (Oversound 2020). Medin’s hybrid poetry book Poem That Never Ends (2021) was a winner of the Essay Press/University of Washington Bothell Contest. Her play Exactamente bajo el sol (staged at Teatro del Pueblo in 2008) was granted the Plays Third Prize by the Argentine Institute of Theatre. She co-translated Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet into Spanish. Her writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Hyperallergic, Harriet Books/Poetry Foundation, Brooklyn Rail, and MoMA/post, among others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU and is an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse. You can find more about her at www.silvinalopezmedin.com.

Read this interview with López Medin about Poem That Never Ends here.

Read an essay by López Medin about the intricate relationship between poetry, motherhood, and translation on the Poetry Foundation website.

 

Commentary by Amanda Moore

A poem I remember loving early in my reading life is James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.” The lyric description of a perfectly bucolic summer moment drew me into the poem from the very first reading, and its surprise swerve in the final line—that speaker’s declaration, “I have wasted my life”—spoke to many of my fears and feelings. So caught up was I in the body of the poem and its message that for a long time I considered the title merely a scene-setting, doing the work of locating us in a hammock in the Midwestern countryside. When I began to consider the title more carefully, however, I realized how deep and rich it is, not just for setting the scene in a very specific place but also for setting a pace: a long, drawn-out utterance that provides a sense of languorousness with which we move through the poem, not to mention the interesting paradox of the passivity of the speaker lounging in a hammock at a farm, a place of industry and labor.

Today’s poem by Silvina López Medin bears a title that reminds me of Wright’s and is similarly industrious, doing work to set the scene, pace, and tone, and the concerns of the speaker. More active than Wright’s speaker, López Medin’s is not passively lying around but declares that “I Am Writing This in My Head.” In addition to centering the actor, the “I,” and establishing the present progressive verb tense that promises the poem will unfold for us, this speaker in the process of writing the title gives us our first glimpse of notions of interiority and containment, major themes of the poem. Not only is the composition taking place inside the head of the speaker, her hands, which the syntax allows us to momentarily consider as a place where the poem is being written as well, are inside gloves. That these gloves don’t match is one further effort of the title to establish the poem’s tone and direction: The containment isn’t a perfect fit, and it’s impossible for me to not want to read on and discover what this mismatching might be the result of or predict.

After reminding me of Wright in the title, López Medin calls forth Elizabeth Bishop in her first line, declaring “I lose at least one / from the pair per season.” In “One Art,” Bishop reminds us “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” before listing a series of losses that grow in consequence, starting with the daily losses of keys and hours and ending with whole landscapes and loves. Similarly, López Medin starts with a quotidian loss, a single glove, which is of such small consequence that she has apparently grown accustomed to it, losing one each year.

This small loss, however, allows her to meditate on the nature of both loss and containment as the “glove left behind still contains the lost one,” an idea she extrapolates from French writer Pascal Quignard’s idea that “in each image there’s a missing image.” Here we feel the poem as it is being written inside the head of the speaker; the lines move in a stream of consciousness from the mismatched glove to the loss that caused it and on to the very idea of loss. Within Quignard’s wisdom, the speaker finds her own, adding that “in each sound there’s a missing sound,” which moves her further down the stream of consciousness to recall her mother. Like the daughter, the mother composes in her head “sentences from fragments,” and she has also experienced loss—in this case, some of her hearing. Within each thought or understanding of the poem’s opening stretch, there is another nestled inside, enacting the sense of composition and discovery.

The poem returns us to the present progressive and adds to the evolving sense of action and setting when the speaker declares “I am / walking the nine blocks back home / from the subway.” As she writes the poem in her head, she also moves through the city in crushingly cold weather. Her inability to translate the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit hints that she wasn’t raised in the US or perhaps even in cold weather, which she confirms via a connection to lost gloves “not relevant in Buenos Aires” because “this cold does not exist” there. Plunging us once again into her stream of consciousness, the speaker moves from a winter city street where she is walking and writing a poem in her head to a memory of Buenos Aires. This move obliquely touches on the notion of loss—like Elizabeth Bishop, who “lost two cities, lovely ones,” the speaker no longer lives where she once did. There is a note of nostalgia but not necessarily longing in her reminiscence as she recognizes that, unlike this cold city street where she walks and writes, she “did not write much / back there.”

One of the things I most admire about the way the poem moves toward its conclusion is a detail from the title: The gloves the speaker is wearing “don’t match.” This mismatched pair of gloves allows the speaker to have her hands in two different pairs of gloves at once. If we consider Quignard and the idea that the gloves that remain contain those that are lost, then the mismatched gloves more than serve their purpose in the cold, and the speaker isn’t any less prepared or whole due to any losses. As she thinks of Buenos Aires, she isn’t carried away or saddened by the loss of the city but warmed by “summer images” she brought back of her mother and her sons there; she gets to have her hands and herself in both places at the same time. This perspective on containment is profound and surprising, not wallowing in the pain or “disaster” of a loss but reveling instead in the multiplicity of many experiences (and gloves) to inhabit. Instead of listing losses or holding onto what is gone, this speaker models how to accumulate and integrate her myriad experiences and perspectives.

López Medin’s poem is from her newly published book Poem That Never Ends, itself a study of loss, multiplicity, and containment in terms of form, language, and content. Nestled in the liminal spaces that live between prose and poem, Spanish and English, image and text, and between generations, it is a book that satisfies the head as much as the heart. It continues to evolve for me through multiple readings, and I’m grateful that in this way, it indeed “never ends.”

 

Amanda Moore‘s debut collection of poems, Requeening, was selected for the National Poetry Series and will be published by HarperCollins/Ecco in October 2021. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies including ZYZZYVA, Cream City Review, and Best New Poets, and she is the recipient of writing awards from The Writing Salon, Brush Creek Arts Foundation, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Currently a Brown Handler Resident at the San Francisco Friends of the Public Library, Amanda is a high school teacher and Marin Poetry Center Board member, and she lives by the beach in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Author photo credit: Clementine Nelson.

 

 

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