Counterpane

Kevin Connolly

copyright ©2008 Kevin Connolly

Hello, lady people! Pigeons are good.
Winter is good. Stoolpigeons are good –
though they’re in league with the government,
trying to kill all spontaneity.
Hello everyone! Time to start losing.
Losing is good. Losing is what we came
here to do, and it’s going quite well,
thanks for asking.

This morning I was passed by a minivan,
“Someday” printed on the vanity plate.
I wonder what she meant? “Someday soon,
goin’ with you” or “I’m gonna get out of
here someday?” or “Someday my prince,
or a real rain’s going to come.”

Given the words in advance, it
might all be easier. Interpretation –
that’s where the problems start.
Take counterpane, for an example.
Sounds like a magician’s con,
a glass counter you’d bounce coins
off, but really it means something
comforting – a blanket to keep you warm.

Coins bounce off the counterpane
and under that blanket, where they exist
now in the mind only, and so will multiply
at my request. Nothing too greedy,
enough for coffee and a newspaper,
somewhere I can look for a job, anything
to reverse the recent downturn.

People like people who stand for things.
Like Shakespeare arrived at Ellis Island with
a trussed-up suitcase and the equivalent of
$3.50 in badly out-of-date currency.
And look where he ended up.
A real job – I’d like that.
People like people who have jobs.
People like people who stand for things.

Notes on the Poem

Is Kevin Connolly teasing the reader in his poem "Counterpane" from 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted "Revolver"? He packs a few whimsical tricks into the poem that will leave you a bit uncertain about trusting the narrator, but you'll be entertained nonetheless by what is revealed about the power and intricacy of words. How seemingly innocuous or even positive words are delivered can twist their meaning, sometimes dramatically. You can convey that verbally with tone of voice, expression and physical gestures, where a specific actor or narrator is in control ... but can it also be done on the page, where you have to supply your own chosen narrator's voice? Connolly manages to control what the reader might imagine some well-placed punctuation and well-paced lines, starting with: "Hello, lady people! Pigeons are good. Winter is good. Stoolpigeons are good - though they're in league with the government, trying to kill all spontaneity." Although "lady people" is both an odd and strangely excluding phrase, the cheery exclamation with which it's offered at least initially disarms. Next, "Pigeons are good" is delivered with such emphatic punch that, well, what is there to argue about? "Winter is good" ... debatable, but the declaration still has that upbeat delivery. But wait. "Stoolpigeons are good"? Just because pigeons are OK doesn't mean that anything with "pigeons" in it has the same connotation - on the contrary. Next, we're abruptly into conspiracy theories, for heaven's sake. From there, Connolly decidedly revels in how the same words can have different meanings and nuances, and can be rendered purposely or unintentionally to confuse or even intimidate. The eponymous word in this poem is richly examined, moving through feelings from distrust to the exact opposite as we navigate from "con" to "coins" to "comforting". So yes, Connolly warned us: "Given the words in advance, it might all be easier. Interpretation - that's where the problems start." With the firm conclusion of: "People like people who stand for things." Connolly might be calling for clarity and eliminating ambiguity. Or is that open to interpretation, too?

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