By Leon Wing
From my window, opened,
A scow across the sploshing road,
My gaze cruises my gate, ajar,
Towards the neighbours, locked
Behind their door, shuttered.
His fife strident,
The old man could have had shunted
The ring into her digit,
Binding the woman into
The wife’s gaze loses my gate, afar.
The old man roots behind her,
Scowling, eavesdropping for any splashing
By the minnow, trapped
In her glass tank,
In the terrible terrace.
August 21, 2008
© Leon Wing 2008
Listen to this poem:
Creative process: Leon Wing : This poem begins with someone gazing from her window, at the neighbours behind their window, the wife gazing back. While “my gate” is “ajar”, their “door” is “shuttered”, closed. They are “locked” behind it.
“a scow across the sploshing road” qualifies the looker’s gaze. A scow is some kind of flat-bottomed boat or barge for carrying goods. “sploshing” suggests the ocean or the sea, a very long way across it, a wide divide. This implies a widely differing circumstance between the looker and the lookee: one is unfettered, free; the other bound into a marriage she cannot escape from.
A fife is a kind of flute which accompanies drums in a marching band. However, this fife is harsh-sounding, when played in their wedding, where the husband forced, not slipped, the marital ring into the wife’s finger. “digit” reveals how he viewed her finger - and her person - as just a body part or an object. This ring is not merely that but a ring on a chain, to bind her into an eternal hell of a marriage.
The first line of the last stanza mirrors the third line of the first stanza, in rhyme and sounds : the AY in the pairs of “gaze” and “gate”, the ER and AH in “ajar” and “afar”, and the OOSES in “cruises” and “loses”. This mirroring evokes a comparison between the looker and the “wife”: one is free; the other is locked, in her house, and in a bad marriage.
The wife cannot get away, because her husband has practically planted (“roots”) both of them so deeply into their marriage, neither he nor the wife can climb out of it. “Scowling, eavesdropping for any splashing” compares with “a scow across the sploshing road” in line 2 of stanza one. “Scowling” harks back to “scow” in the first stanza, in sound, for comparision. “scow” describes a calm gaze over a long but not actual distance, and “scowling” indicates an intense and angry emotion. “across” has a similar sound, of O, in “eavesdropping”. And, “splashing” and “sploshing” both have the same half-rhyme, to compare the freedom of the sploshing in the first stanza and the tanked-in splashing of the trapped minnow.
“By the minnow, trapped” is similar to “From my window, opened” in line 1 of the first stanza, in construction and sounds. The reader can link “minnow” to “window”, in their similar sounds. The looker’s “window” is opened while the “minnow” is kept inside a tank: contrast “opened” and “trapped”.
“trapped” and “tank” have mute consonants, p and k. “trapped”, when enounced, closes the mouth, trapping or stopping the sound. With “tank”, the glottis is stopped or blocked, baulking the sound further. The “minnow” is held captive, like the wife, who has her freedom blocked.
The last line, “In the terrible terrace”, closes the poem by repeating the “ter” sound in “terrible terrace”. You sense the terror - the terror - of the woman.
Leon Wing deconstructs poems in Puisi-Poesy, and has his own blog. He edits the poetry section of The Malaysian Poetic Chronicles webzine.