Two Very Different Poems About Freedom, Family, and the Passage of Time

The poems The Old Bandana Left Behind, by Haley Hudson, and Freedom, by Collin Weatherman, both published in The Arrowhead Literary Arts Journal, tackle the ideas of freedom, family, and the passage of time, albeit in different ways.

In The Old Bandana Left Behind, the passage of time takes away the life of the speaker’s father, as an article of clothing he used to wear, a bandana with the American flag on it – a symbol commonly associated with freedom – is all they have left to remember him by, with vivid descriptions of the past juxtaposed against the present. In a way, it could be interpreted as time actually taking away freedom and the carefree state of mind a child has when they are young and still believe their parents are invincible. All that is left is a shell of the belief. It is truly a beautiful and somber poem.

Freedom stands out in stark contrast. In a way, it may also be about the loss of parental prescence, not due to them dying, but rather, due to them making the mistake of being a little too smothering, or with an overbearing type of love that the speaker has simply outgrown, represented by a children’s bicycle and a baby carriage that fly out from beneath them. The person or people who pushed the carriage, while “lovely chauffeurs,” are just no longer needed. Maybe the speaker actually jumped out, but no matter what, it was the inevitable passage of time that, at the very least, motivated the change. This is more like the conventional Western coming of age story where time brings the idea of freedom to a young person, rather than taking it away.

While they cover two very different perspectives on the topics at hand, they are both amazing poems!

Chemo on Ice by Jessica Brown

Chemo on Ice is a contemporary poem written by me that was published in the Spring 2022 edition of The Arrowhead Literary Arts Journal. The poem wrestles with the mental state of a person as they witness their loved one suffering through cancer treatment. Going through chemo is an action represented as precariously taking place on ice, in a manner that could either preserve a person, or, conversely, cause them to drown. This is because, while chemo is often presented as a way to help preserve life, some claim it does more harm than good, and it does objectively weaken a person’s body, in at least the short term. Thus, the goal of the poem is to capture that sense of fear and unease the beginning of chemo can bring. The ice symbolism also refers to the practice of people having their hands and feet placed in ice during chemo to help with side effects. The poem reflects both the anxiety felt by, and the resilience exhibited by, many people going through similar situations.

GHOSTS HAUNT ME by Jessica Brown

Grim 

Hallucinations 

Of

Shivering

Trapped time

Start to

Hiccup

Animosity

Under

Negligent neurotics 

Trying to take on a

Mindful

Existence 


GHOSTS HAUNT ME is a contemporary poem written by me that was published in the Spring 2022 edition of The Arrowhead Literary Arts Journal. In the poem, ghosts can be viewed as a metaphor for memories manifesting as intrusive thoughts that interrupt a person simply trying to live a peaceful life.

Personal by Tony Hoagland

Don’t take it personal, they said;

but I did, I took it all quite personal—

the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;

the price of grapefruit and stamps,

the wet hair of women in the rain—

And I cursed what hurt me

and I praised what gave me joy,

the most simple-minded of possible responses.

The government reminded me of my father,

with its deafness and its laws,

and the weather reminded me of my mom,

with her tropical squalls.

Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness

Think first, they said of Talk

Get over it, they said

at the School of Broken Hearts

but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t

believe in the clean break;

I believe in the compound fracture

served with a sauce of dirty regret,

I believe in saying it all

and taking it all back

and saying it again for good measure

while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries

like wheeling birds

and the trees look seasick in the wind.

Oh life! Can you blame me

for making a scene?

You were that yellow caboose, the moon

disappearing over a ridge of cloud.

I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;

barking and barking:

trying to convince everything else

to take it personal too.


Personal is a poem by Tony Hoagland about being powerless to your emotions, even if you know that ultimately they are irrational. It’s like when someone is telling you you’re being too sensitive, and you know you are, but you still can’t stop yourself. It is a battle between mind and soul.

In a Freudian way, the speaker projects his familial observations onto seemingly unrelated topics, like the government and the weather, equating a strict father with the negative structures of civilization, and an unpredictable mother with the chaos of nature. The conflict between the two opposing elements likely contributing the speaker’s own inner conflict, as being the product of their convergence.

Furthermore, cliched, simplistic, cookie cutter advice, while pragmatic, has no function to such an impulsive and emotional person as the speaker. In many ways, the speaker is unsure of himself and contradictory in his expression. However, self aware, he admits that he is just like a dog mindlessly yapping at the moon in futility. The moon – like all the eternal forces of life that are beyond his control.

Night Words by Isabel Meyrelles

Appointments you did not make

On streets you do not know

I shall wait

Until the nights glide

Over me and

I am transformed

Into a tree

Once again

Time is shattered

In my hands

Once again

You will be the silence

Around me

To forget

The pine tree sound

Of your hair

And your eyes

Black stones

To forget those petrified days

Far from you

I shall be water

Green water

Motionless

Opaque

Stagnant

I shall be water

Where only you

Can be reflected

Nothing else


Night Words is a Surrealist poem by Isabel Meyrelles about unrequited love. The love is unrequited because the one being addressed did not make appointments to be with the speaker, or even know the streets that the speaker is waiting for them on. Regardless, the speaker still waits hopelessly for them, even despite the fact that the unrequited love has hard, vacant, unloving eyes like black stones. The speaker is passive like water that only wants to reflect the unrequited love.

Ode to a Dressmaker’s Dummy by Donald Justice

Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.

Metal stand. Instructions included.   –Sears, Roebuck Catalogue

             O my coy darling, still

              You wear for me the scent

         Of those long afternoons we spent,

               The two of us together,

    Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes

                 Of household spies

    And the remote buffooneries of the weather;

                         So high,

    Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,

              Which, often enough, at dusk,

    Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,

Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

              How like the terrified,

              Shy figure of a bride

         You stood there then, without your clothes,

                  Drawn up into

         So classic and so strict a pose

      Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew

Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.

         Or was it only some obscure

      Shape of my mother’s youth I saw in you,

There where the rude shadows of the afternoon

         Crept up your ankles and you stood

         Hiding your sex as best you could?–

         Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


Ode to a Dressmaker’s Dummy is a New Formalist poem by Donald Justice about the power people have to project their feelings onto anything, even an inanimate object like a dress maker’s dummy. The speaker is hidden with the dummy up in the attic, away from everyone but the vast sky, who occasionally makes an appearance to judgmentally peer in on the lovers. The sky might be seen as a symbol of objective judgement, as the sky is an escapable force that’s always existed and clouds are often associated with heaven and a “higher power.” The dummy is like a scared bride about to have sex for the first time, and subsequently, for whatever reason (perhaps because the dummy belonged to his mother in her youth) the dummy makes the speaker think of his mother’s body when she was younger. However, beyond the literal interpretation, this could be a reference to the Freudian idea that all men want to be with their mothers – or women like their mothers. This creepy form of projection, bringing life into lifeless, is ghostlike.

Early Fall in Central Park by J. D. Salinger

Slobber and swarm, you condemned brown leaves.

Around my feet, even my soul, just as you please.

In rhythm

And cadence

With nothing.

Peek-a-boo! You scraggy, impotent, shrouded sun.

It’s only me; so don’t shine or primp; just run

Along and

Take orders

From calendars.

Good afternoon, good afternoon, nude little ladies!

Such attractive mink. It’s all yours? Ah, what’s new in Hades?

I love

Your hard

Hard heels.



Early Fall in Central Park is a Modern poem by J.D. Salinger about the start of a new season and the helplessness one feels to the natural cycle. The leaves are scattered around the speaker with callousness and blatant disregard for his comfort. The speaker sarcastically tells the sun not to worry about shining or looking good because it’s only him. Of course, such reassurance is unnecessary because nature listens to no one, doesn’t need anyone’s permission and doesn’t need to be reminded of how insignificant the speaker is. However, contrary to the speaker’s snide suggestion, nature doesn’t take orders from calendars, the calendar takes orders from it. The speaker is just trying to make himself feel better by imagining his opponent, nature, as being as powerless as him. When it is really everyone and everything that is powerless to it. Then he mockingly refers to leave-less trees as being nude little ladies who are simultaneously finely dressed in mink and heels which he sardonically claims he loves for being “hard,” perhaps symbolizing the sadistic thoughtlessness of nature.

I Met a Young Man by Anonymous

I met a young man whose face was well-worn

Last of his line though he was firstborn

He had tended his garden and left home when

His house became victim to two different men

The first was a hunter who claimed to have found

That the sun and the moon could be brought to the ground 

He was a great lookout with fire in his eyes

His far-sight saw all, each certainty and surprise

The second man was a king who was all dressed in green

Whose beauty was famed though it had seldom been seen

He was not wise or just, patient or humble

He would not leave his throne though his castle had crumbled

The young man came home and his house was all hollow

He then asked, “who would do this and where did they go?”


I Met a Young Man is a poem by an anonymous author about how society’s progression and nature’s lack of predictability can make one feel cheated and confused. The first stanza establishes the young man as a symbol for collective humanity, “Last of his line though he was firstborn.” The next stanza introduces the first of the men that his house becomes a victim to, a hunter gazing at the sun and moon who represents civilization. Then, the following stanza displays the second man who breaks into the young man’s home, a king dressed in green who embodies wilderness. Finally, the young man asks who would do this and where did they go, contemplating the divide and detachment between the two forces that robbed him of both his sense of security and his sense of safety.

Not to Acquire Mere Wealth, but a Lost Era – The Real American Dream in The Great Gatsby

Plot: The exposition of the story is Nick, a WWI veteran and alumni of Yale, moving to New York City to start a career in bond sales. A complication that arises from this is all the drama associated with wanting to get to know Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire who lives next door. The climax is chapter seven when Tom and George both realize that their wives are cheating on them and Daisy runs over Myrtle. Although George doesn’t know who his wife is sleeping with, Tom knows Gatsby is after Daisy, and there is a confrontation that makes Tom trick George into thinking Gatsby was cheating with Myrtle so he’ll kill Gatsby. This is the climax because it is the turning point where nothing is ever the same and issues that have been swept under the rug are finally exposed. The resolution is after Gatsby dies and Nick has a change of heart, deciding to dump Jordan, have a talk with Gatsby and stay away from people in East Egg. The central plot of The Great Gatsby is mainly Jay Gatsby’s efforts to win over Daisy Buchanan through acquiring wealth and material possessions. For example, in chapter five, this is exhibited when Gatsby flaunts his worldly goods by throwing piles of his fancy garments all around to show off in front of her (Fitzgerald 92). Unlike Daisy, Gatsby is from new money, however he wants her to know that he is not beneath her and that he is highly capable of earning the sort of frivolous commodities that impress her. In fact, she is so impressed by them, that they even make her cry (Fitzgerald 92). However, Daisy’s own struggles with her husband also play an integral role in the plot. Daisy’s husband, Tom, is a cheater and a racist, yet she finds herself unsure about whether she should leave him. In chapter seven, she states that she never loved Tom, before contradicting herself and saying that she cannot really say that she never loved Tom, yet then she says she’s going to leave him(Fitzgerald 132-133). Although ultimately, she does not choose Gatsby and Gatsby is killed by George, who believes he was having an affair with George’s wife after Tom makes him believe so.

Setting: The setting is New York City, from Spring 1922 through September. The main two areas where action takes place are called West Egg and East Egg. East Egg is where old money lives, such as Daisy and Tom, whereas West Egg symbolizes new money and is where Gatsby and Nick live. In chapter one, Nick remarks: “I lived at West Egg, the — well, the less fashionable of the two (…) (Fitzgerald 5).” What makes this interesting is that, there really is not a lot of physical descriptions to explain why West Egg is so inferior. Frankly, it seems like the criticism of West Egg is more emotional than anything. The fact that West Egg is not admired as much as East Egg, while it is where the people that earned their wealth, rather than inherited it live, reflects the view that hard work does not pay and is not appreciated, which is very telling of the dominant views in their society. Although it’s true that the work Gatsby did to achieve his place of residence would not be admirable to many, the fact that West Egg is generally viewed as inferior, regardless of his attachment to it, is indicative of the snobby environment The Great Gatsby takes place in.

Protagonist/Antagonist: The protagonists are Gatsby and Daisy, the antagonist is the passage of time. Although not a lot is revealed about the reasoning behind Gatsby’s motivations, he is still the protagonist since he is the center of attention that the story revolves around, same with Daisy. While he is a bit of a mystery, his vague aspirations are what makes a millionaire relatable to readers. What is clear is that the passage of time is the enemy. In chapter six, Gatsby makes this known: “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously, “Why of course you can (Fitzgerald 110)!” Gatsby believes that if he acquires enough wealth, he can acquire Daisy and thus, repeat the past. For Gatsby, wealth is like a tool to combat time. Although, in a circular way, Gatsby equates Daisy herself with wealth, exclaiming: “Her voice is full of money (…) (Fitzgerald120).” This exposes the futility of his aim for, he objectifies Daisy to be like a trophy or symbol of wealth used to acquire praise or social favors. Essentially, he does not truly love Daisy and is just using money and wealth, to try to go back in time, and achieve what he considers to be more money and wealth, in a strange, roundabout way. However, since he lacks self awareness to recognize this reality, the passage of time remains his antagonist because it is still the enemy of his goal, whether his goal be right or wrong. For Daisy, the passage of time is her enemy, not because she wants to relive the past like Gatsby, but because she wants to escape it. Daisy articulates this mentality fluently. “(…) She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘all right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow (…) (Fitzgerald 17).”When Daisy says that the best thing a woman can be is a beautiful fool, she is not saying that because she is happy with that lifestyle or because she is dumb, she’s saying it because she is depressed and jaded. She says it because she knows if she herself was to think too much about her life situation she would be miserable. She is not necessarily smart or dumb, just cynical, that is why she cries when she learns she had a daughter, she thinks that her daughter might make all the same bad choices she did. She is essentially giving the daughter “just don’t think about it your problems and they’ll go away” as advice. Ignorance is bliss. Daisy is not being materialistic and hedonistic just to satisfy some primal urges or feel mindless self indulgence for the fun of it. She does so because she is empty inside, trying to cover it up and trying to distract herself. However, both of their desires to relive the past and escape the past are superficial and short sighted. It is superficial for Daisy because, in doing so, she ignores her true feelings and superficial for Jay, because he doesn’t really love Daisy, she is just a symbol to him.

Minor/Auxiliary Characters: There are quite a few important minor characters in The Great Gatsby. George Wilson and Myrtle Wilson are arguably the most vital because, while seemingly not very active or important at first, they end up contributing to Gatsby’s death. Gatsby is killed because Tom makes George think he killed Myrtle. Thus, the prescence of George and Myrtle are aides who help progress the plot. As minor characters often tend to be, Myrtle does not have much of a personality other than being an archetype. In fact, for lack of a better term, she comes across as an archetypal “hussy,” as well as being resentful and stubborn. Her being resentful is made clear when she explains that she never loved the man she married: “I married him because I thought he was a gentleman (…) I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.” “You were crazy about him for a while,” said Catherine. “Crazy about him!” cried Myrtle incredulously. “Who said I was crazy about him? (…) “The only CRAZY I was was when I married him (Fitzgerald 35).’’ Her stubbornness is also made clear when she refuses to listen to Tom telling her to drop a subject: “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!” shouted Mrs. Wilson. “I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai —— (Fitzgerald 37).” Although that isn’t to say she deserved to get abused or hit, still the most productive thing she did for the story was die. George is a pretty unhinged character, as one would have to be to commit a homicide and suicide, although not all murderers display how unhinged they are as clearly as George. Even before the murder, his unstable nature is shown: “I’ve got my wife locked in up there,” explained Wilson calmly. “She’s going to stay there till the day after to-morrow, and then we’re going to move away (Fitzgerald 136).”George’s mental instability is foreshadowed before he kills Gatsby.

Narrator and Focalization: The Great Gatsby has a first person limited point of view. It is first person because the narrator, Nick, uses the word “I” and is limited because he cannot read people’s minds. Whether or not Nick is reliable is quite a contentious subject, with many thinking he is not, but personally, I really haven’t seen any convincing evidence to suggest so. Given that Nick is not the center of the story and doesn’t have a very strong personality, I hardly notice him. Furthermore, we only see the story through his point of view. I think this prevents the story from being too dramatic, considering that Nick isn’t cheating on anybody, sleeping with anybody’s wife or committing some terrible crime, he is relatively stable and keeps the story easier to follow. If all the main characters narrated different parts of the story, it might have made it less classy, less esteemed and harder to differentiate from cheap pulp fiction with excess drama. Although on onehand it might have made it easier to understand the character’s motivations, people don’t always truly understand themselves anyways or practice self awareness. Plus, the, at times, mysterious andvague nature of their motivations is what makes them more relatable.

Major Themes: The two major themes of The Great Gatsby are that, money doesn’t buy happiness, and that you can’t turn back time. For instance, Daisy and Gatsby are both miserable people, despite being rich. Daisy didn’t even want to marry her husband. Before her bridal dinner, an event that should be happy, Daisy is drinking and distressed: “Never had a drink before, but oh how I do enjoy it (…) “Take ’em down-stairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell’em all Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say: ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!’ She began to cry — (Fitzgerald76). Gatsby feels a part of him is missing. As Nick states: “He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy (Fitzgerald 110).” Gatsby exclaims: “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see (Fitzgerald 110).” However, Gatsby never gets to relive the past and dies in vain. Although Daisy did not want to relive the past, the message is still hammered hard into her brain when Gatsby dies, and unfortunately, will likely cause her to slip more deeply into her escapist tendencies than ever before, unless she has the courage to take it as a wake up call to confront her inner demons.

Historical/Literary Period: The Great Gatsby is a Modernist novel from the Roaring Twenties. It is a textbook example of the sort of decadence students are frequently taught in school to associate with the decade, perfectly encapsulating the wild party lifestyle, a result of wealth rising after WWI, that could be referred to as the calm before the storm (the storm being The Great Depression), if it wasn’t so wild and chaotic. The fact that Gatsby got his money from being a bootlegger is consistent with how ubiquitous the illegal sale of alcohol was during the prohibition era of the Roaring Twenties. The fact that selling alcohol was seen as a bad thing to do, is surely a sign of its time and product of its era. Modernism is also apparent in the book. One characteristic of Modernist literature is the move away from omniscient narrators (Cuddy- Keane). This is made apparent in The Great Gatsby by Nick not knowing everything and having to find things out. Modernism also tends to focus on a sense of isolation, loss of control, despair and questioning of conventions (“Modernism in Literature – What Are Characteristics of Modernism in Writing?”).The Great Gatsby does all of this in the content of its tale of misery. Stylistically, The Great Gatsby also demonstrates Modernism in its use of fragmentation: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past (Fitzgerald 180).” There are many examples of this in the book, however, that is just my favorite quote. It reminded me of my first time kayaking and how helpless I felt against the river’s current, how I feared that the waves would carry me too far and that I’d get lost, or that they’d throw me into the path of a large motorized boat and I’d get

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey

I went to a party

I came in hot

made decisions beforehand

my mind made up

things that would make me happy

to do them or not

each option weighed quietly

a plan for each thought

But then i walked through thee door

past the open concept

and saw Violet

bent backwards over the grass

7 years old with dandelions grasped

tightly in her hands

arched like a bridge in a fallen handstand

grinning wildly like a madman

with the exuberance that only doing nothing can bring

waiting for the fireworks to begin

and in that moment

i decided to do nothing about everything

forever.


Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey is a poem about the concept of happiness. Essentially, the theme of the poem is that happiness is something that comes from being open to serendipity, not from being constricted by excessive planning. Having her mind made up makes the speaker “hot” and intense in a way that implies some sort of stress. She has a “plan for each thought,” which would be overwhelmingly restrictive. In contrast, the image of the child doing a handstand is more free and unrestrained, described as “grinning wildly like a madman” and “arched like a bridge,” a symbol of unity and connection. This makes the speaker want to follow the child’s lead, in a way that, although impractical, would still be a step up from what she was doing before.