Thursday, February 21, 2008

Quinnapoxet - Two Readings

Thus goes the third and final stanza of Stanley Kunitz's Quinnapoxet

I had nothing to say to her.
But for him who walked behind her
in his dark worsted suit,
with his face averted
as if to hide a scald,
deep in his other life,
I touched my forehead
with my swollen thumb
and spalyed my fingers out -
in deaf-mute country
the sign for father

Gregory Orr in his book Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry explains it as follows :

In the poem "Quinnapoxer," Kunitz takes his stand in relation to the figures of his two parents. He rejects the mother and makes a gesture of communion toward the father. For the first time, Kunitz overtly links the key image of the wound (here a "burn/scald" to the father and thus to the father's suicide.

in his dark worsted suit
with his face averted
as if to hide a scald

I am sure he is right and it also adds up in the context of the first two stanzas. But there could be another way of reading these lines in isolation from their context.

The woman could be the mother of the poet's children, the man in the dark worsted suit the new man in her life playing Daddy to kids that are not his own. The poet making a sign for father may be a way of expressing longing for fatherhood, pain of separation and an appeal even be allowed to be who he is. He has nothing to say to the woman who is no longer in his life. He does have something to ask of the man playing father but he is uncomfortable making eye contact with the real Dad.

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