What Can We Steal From Darrell Dela Cruz’s “Abandon”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Abandon,” poem
Author: Darrell Dela Cruz
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The poem was published in the 2013 issue of Two Thirds North, an online journal produced by the Department of English at Stockholm University.

Bonuses: Darren has an awesome blog called A Retail Life After the MFA in which he does insightful poetry analyses.  I love how he includes an image of the way he marks up each poem.  This is the way we should all be reading, with pen in hand.  Here are two of his poems from Foliate Oak.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Juxtaposition

Discussion:
The two sections of this poem take place in a church and a doctor’s waiting room, respectively.  The narrator seems somewhat young; he’s certainly not a mature adult.  Singing the hymns in chorus with others takes a lot out of the first-person narrator, so he’s excused.  In the waiting room, the narrator (who could be either male or female, I suppose) sits near a man who is calling out for his son.  The narrator is called into the office, so he (or she) never learns the outcome for the father.

One of the things I love about the poem is the way that Darrell juxtaposes the settings.  Waiting rooms and churches are very different places…but they can also be very similar.  When one is in a waiting room, one is hoping that they or their loved one will be restored to health.  When one is in a church, one expects a deity to restore themselves or others to a very different state of wellness.  Darrell makes the connection even more explicit.  In the first section, the narrator is holding onto a pew for balance, his knuckles white.  In the second section, the father reclines across an entire row of chairs.  Why would a man do such a selfish thing in a packed waiting room?  He’s clearly anxious about his son.  We can surely forgive him his faux pas.

What is the effect of juxtaposing the two settings?  The narrator, stressed out for whatever reasons, seems to realize that there are bigger problems than his when confronted with the father’s display of fear.  Anxiety in one setting means something different in another.

Think of it this way: Imagine you’re walking around at midnight and you hear a sound that resembles a woman’s frightened scream.  What do you do?  I think most of us would turn our heads and take a look to make sure everything is okay.  (I hope we would do the same thing for a man’s frightened scream, of course.)  The high-pitched expression of fear carries a meaning and attracts our attention.

Now imagine you hear the EXACT SAME SOUND while you’re walking around an amusement park.  You might not even notice because people often scream while on scary rides.  You know that no one in the park is in serious danger and that people often purge their fear by screaming.  The same sound carries a different meaning.  In his poem, Darrell extracts meaning by transporting some of the same ideas to a different setting.

Mythological stories have meant a lot to people for millennia.  Why?  They offer explanations for difficult questions in life and offer guidance to people who need guidelines by which to live their lives.  Darrell mines a number of mythological concepts.  (Christian mythology in this case.)

  • hymns
  • pews
  • “Jesus wept”
  • Father/son relationship
  • Waiting for deliverance/arrival of son
  • “confirmation”

These Christian concepts serve as a kind of shorthand for the writer.  Darrell mentions the father who is waiting for the son to make the world feel “right” again, and the poem has that much more meaning to people who happen to be Christian.  Does the poem only appeal to people of that persuasion?  Of course not.  We can all relate to the ideas of reverent song and waiting for joy to balance sadness.

What Should We Steal?

  • Recontextualize characters and settings to explore their meanings.  A scream in a water park means something different than a scream in an apartment complex in the middle of the night.
  • Appropriate mythological conventions for your own purposes.  It’s no accident that mythological ideas hold a lot of sway inside people.

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