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Misses of the Swaying Light Bulb

 

See the misses of the swaying light bulb?

 

In all goodbyes there is the snap of the fresh, young branch.

 

Like our once speckled dreams, breathing in the deep of our lakes

Great-Grandma, cut off at a pale instant, has advised, “For the mass of us.”

 

She has advised, “For the none of us,” hiding behind the barrel of spices.

 

Be relieved to know, we have feasted in the fields, catching the scribble

of the great hummingbird.

 

We enact a no-closer-possible union.

 

A braid of fumes sly into our noses.




Haesong Kwon

levelheaded: Misses of the Swaying Light Bulb

 

This poem feels primeval. This is partly because it draws its palette from nature – from “the fresh young branch” and “the deep of our lakes” and having “feasted in the fields.” But it’s also because it sets out idyllic signifiers like “the barrel of spices” and “the great hummingbird” that would have us understand we are reading about a specific scene that feels like it takes place in a specific past.

 

But what about the light bulb? If the poem replaced its “swaying light bulb” with a “crackling fire” or a “flickering candle,” it would lose its single, tenuous connection to modernity. The light bulb pushes hard against a strong impression that the poem comes spontaneously from a wellspring of essential knowledge.

 

The poem begins with a question that doubles as a command. We see another command when the speaker says, “Be relieved,” near the end of the poem. These moments contribute to the speaker’s sage-like tone through the poem. The speaker knows something – perhaps related to Great-Grandma’s understanding that “For the mass of us” is the same as “For the none of us” – but he communicates his knowledge cryptically. The speaker’s authority compels us to participate in the poem’s myth making. At the same time, he reveals a lack of confidence. If you have to command someone to “Be relieved,” there’s a good chance they shouldn’t.

 

As its short, sometimes aphoristic lines evolve into a narrative of grandmotherly advice, the poem emphasizes the importance of a cross-generational knowledge transfer. It points toward Great-Grandma as the aforementioned wellspring. There is also the simple pleasure we take in the poem’s glistening bits of writing (see: “A braid of fumes,” “speckled dreams,” “a pale instant”).

 

But there also seems to be some doubt about the value of the poem’s past. The “misses” of the swaying bulb could be read as the “missus” of the swaying bulb. It’s a subtle pun that implies Great-Grandma has missed the mark with her advice. And finally, we’re left with that “braid of fumes,” a knotty stench that sneaks in right at the end, unexpected and presumably unwelcome.

 

 

-The Editors