Poetry

Poetry Sunday: 'Shock,' by Natalia Treviño

 

Poet’s Note

In a series of poems about amazement and refreshing love, I focused on the idea of shock I encounter almost every day. There is no other word for it. I really am living in a state of shock. The poem talks about why. It is sad that I feel shock, but what a way to enjoy love in a marriage, as a daily surprise. I know there is electrical shock and emotional shock, and I wanted the poem to be a conductor for both, a kind of fluid that holds both “charges” of the word: the hyperbolic sense of shock, which is what I was talking about directly, and the more interesting idea of electrical shock, resistance, reversed currents, and rewired circuitry.
My dad loved to teach me about electronics when I was a kid. Electronics is the reason he was able to come back to the US when I was a child. High scores in math when he joined the Air Force earned him electronics detail and work on flight instruments on airplanes in Okinawa, which led to his career in computers back in the fifties. He had a very different experience from most Mexican immigrants welcomed to the US military in return for citizenship or encouraged to come to the US as guest workers in the abusive Bracero Program. When Dad arrived in the US, a dropout with no future to speak of, his aunt in the valley checked his hands and said, “No, you will not make it in the fields.” Still, his plan was to be a farmworker and Dad did not go beyond eighth grade in school. His family had a financial disaster, and no one expected him to go to school after that. To pass the time, he read books about biology and chemistry to learn how diseases worked and how to make questionable explosives for fun. He was basically a well-read hooligan. As a frustrated scientist, Dad was never happier with my education than when I was studying ohms in high school physics. In Mexico, we are very resourceful using basic materials to get the job done.
With crime on the rise in the very urban city of Monterrey where my family is from, you will see houses of all kinds, in all neighborhoods, with the same kind of “electric fence” setup: a concrete wall, often twelve feet tall or higher, separating one house from another, and dried into the top of it, broken multicolored glass. It was terrifying and pretty. If you climb these walls, you will actually bleed. Period. This poem scratches the surface of how a person can feel after divorce— surrounded by high cemented Mexican concrete walls, dangerous walls—and how a total physical conversion can happen when love enters as the ultimate (electrical) transformer.

 

Notes on “Shock”

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor


Let’s start with what I’ve called in these columns the “MFA Flyover,” looking first at the shape this poem makes on the page: spare, short, and narrow but getting wider as it develops. Its signature features may be brevity and compression, with 16 very short lines conveying one hot blast of powerful message, feeling, and layered meaning.
All the lines are short—the poem contains just 77 words and 114 syllables in its 16 lines. (By way of comparison, a Shakespearian sonnet consists of about 140 syllables in 14 lines.) But you’ll notice that some lines are even shorter than others, and that these are found in the first half of the poem, whose lines in its second half are about twice as wide. In fact, no line in the first four couplets contains more than four words. The pivot point for line length comes exactly halfway through the poem, in the 5th couplet, whose first line has seven words and second just three. Afterward the lines lengthen out to 6 to 10 words per line.
All this matters, I think, because it shows a progression or change that structurally supports a thematic change also taking place in the poem and supporting meaning at a subconscious and bodily level experienced by readers. The speaker starts out damaged and wary, and those first short, choppy lines communicate her anxiety. Short lines, you may remember, are harder to read than longer lines and slow the poem down. Where the lines begin to lengthen (the 5th couplet) corresponds with an important turn in the poem, the last time the speaker returns to habituated feelings of rage and fear before being won over in the end to the idea that her second marriage can be a fresh start. The longest lines of all, the two that close the poem, are themselves the site of the last and most definitive turn, when the speaker finally lowers her fists and surrenders to the idea that her new husband will in fact give her the love denied in the first, unhappy marriage.
An important strategy in this poem is its use of what is called “sustained metaphor.” In this case, electricity stands in for the speaker’s powerfully positive and negative feelings about marriage and the “circuitry” for her psyche, and an exploration of the nuances of this metaphor carries the poem from the second through the fifth couplet. The metaphor is inspired, communicating viscerally the poles of hope and despair that the speaker vacillates between in the poem. It also gives the speaker a way to disclose her ethnic identity (“Mexican electric fence”), an important theme in Treviño’s work as a whole. I hope you’ll read her book, Lavando la Dirty Laundry, because it includes many poems I would have loved to feature in this column. And do read the Author’s Note here about the origin of the metaphor. The childhood interest in electricity fostered by a father who was a professional in that field explains Treviño’s fluency with the subject and ability to use with credibility and confidence phrases like “converting the circuitry” and “reversing the current.”  

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  • Mickey August 21, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you very much for introducing me to this poet, this lovely collection. My library borrowed it for me from the state of Washington, I think. I was intrigued and love the use of the two languages. Since I once spoke Spanish very well and was mistaken for a Spaniard, I enjoyed the use of a language mixed with English which I believe Spanish is one of those musical languages, unlike English. Thank you again and again.

    Reply
  • Mickey August 21, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you very much for introducing me to this poet, this lovely collection. My library borrowed it for me from the state of Washington, I think. I was intrigued and love the use of the two languages. Since I once spoke Spanish very well and was mistaken for a Spaniard, I enjoyed the use of a language mixed with English which I believe Spanish is one of those musical languages, unlike English. Thank you again and again.

    Reply
  • Anthony M. Flores July 3, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Awesome poem!:)

    Reply
  • Anthony M. Flores July 3, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Awesome poem!:)

    Reply