Transformed into a silhouette, its beak open, the bird on the edge of the Grand Canyon seems more symbol than living creature: something we’ll each interpret under influences as consistent as temperament and experience or as fleeting as a mood. Long time followers may recognise a similar, more uplifting shot, taken nearby.
Coming across the picture and the short poem, Requiem by Kurt Vonnegut, in quick succession, it seemed fitting to put them together here, today.
One of my University tutors, Philip Davis, passed on a tip that still instructs my reading: “Look for a long time at any word that puzzles you…”. And something puzzles me in this poem. Not the climate change part, sadly. I have no doubts about that. The meaning hangs on the final irony – of course we like it here. Broadly speaking. In the absence of alternative places to live.
It’s even less than a word – a tiny grammatical detail – that derails my understanding. Why isn’t the last line within the speech marks? If Earth is no longer speaking, the statement hangs more awkwardly. That’s where the old teaching kicks in and a scene plays out in my imagination:
Earlier me: “It seems like it’s a mistake. I’ll search to see if I can find another version with the speech mark in the right place”.
Imaginary Philip Davis: “You can’t assume the poet picked his words by mistake or that the text is wrong. Poets pay attention to words. They include or omit punctuation with precision. You’re missing something”.
I’m willing to concede I may be missing something – a nuance, perhaps, as the thrust of the poem hits as the poet intended. At least it’s only a possibly misplaced speech mark, not the end of the world.