Saturday, April 7, 2012

"A Martian Sends a Postcard Home" by Craig Raine from "The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry Third Edition Volume 2"

    A Martian Sends a Postcard Home

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings---

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on the ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside---
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds.  And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling it with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly.  Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone.  No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.

At night, when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves—
in colour, with their eyelids shut.


**
I opened this book at random and came across this odd little poem.
It is a fun one with familiar matters seen as an alien would interpret it and most of it is self-explanatory but notes are given in the text to advise you on the meanings. Let me run through it and then go to the other poem –which I liked for the most part—as well.

Stanzas # 1-3

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings---

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.
**
Caxtons –we are told –are books.  William Caxton was the first to print books in England apparently and so the poet has simply used his last name to refer to books.
Here the Martian describes the books or Caxtons as birds—with many wings and so they must seem –when they are being flipped through –and I liked how he has said some of these birds are well loved for their characteristic markings—“some are treasured for their markings---“. 

Indeed—some books do make us cry –“they cause the eyes to melt” or they make us laugh—“the body to shriek without pain.”  They are birds that the Martian has not seen in motion—but they stay on the hand---“sometimes they perch on the hand.”

Stanzas # 4-6

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on the ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.
**
These three stanzas deal with weather.
Mist is a machine that is soft bodied.
It is seen to repair its energies on the land—“the sky is tired of flight” –so it “rests its soft machine”. 

The mist makes the world—dull to see—“like engravings under tissue paper.”

When rain comes down—this looks like the static on T.V.
And it accentuates colors.

Stanzas #7-8

Model T is a room with the lock inside---
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.
**

These two stanzas deal with automobile motion—in an old car—a Model T—which encloses you and you must use a key to free yourself to motion.

Then you go fast.

The matter of “so quick there is a film / to watch for anything missed”—might mean you have to look at a video to see the motion.
Stanza # 9

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.
**
Time is jailed in a wrist watch to the hand—or is put in a clock “box” that makes it impatient to get out.

Stanzas # 10-12

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds.  And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling it with a finger.
**

Babies are seen by the Martian as some sort of “haunted apparatus” –that snores and cries—this ghost is woken out of sleep by tickling.

It is amusing to think of babies as ghosts—that are held and comforted by adults.

What then are adults?  Ghost carriers.

Stanzas # 13-15

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly.  Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone.  No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.
**

Adults suffer in rooms by themselves—“with water” of tears—and “suffer the noises” of crying by themselves while the young are allowed to cry with others –in public—“Only the young are allowed to suffer / openly.”
Everyone is noted to suffer—but in different variations of the same theme—with a “different smell” to each pain.

Stanzas # 16-17

At night, when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves—
in colour, with their eyelids shut.

**
At night—the darkness kills colours—“At night, when all the colours die,” –they “read about themselves” –how?  In dreams---?  He says –they do this “in colour, with their eyelids shut.”

It was a fun poem.
Rather like small puzzles--joined to make a larger puzzle.
It was a novel thing.
I liked it.

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