Sunday, December 05, 2010

`One Foot Will Lift and the Split Resolve'

One splits hairs, atoms, rails and infinitives. One splits and splices genes. Splitting implies sharing and breaking, leaving and taking. In Shakespeare, it’s the heart or breast most often split. In King Lear, the Duke of Albany says: “Let sorrow split my heart if ever I / Did hate thee, or thy father!” The word entered English around Shakespeare’s sixteenth birthday. Slangily, to split is to leave the scene, divorce or perform gymnastics. We split tickets, screens and the difference. Kay Ryan has a new poem, “Splitting Ice,” at The Threepenny Review:

“Like standing
on splitting ice
one foot on one
one on the
other piece.
Distressed like
the family of man
at the divorce
of the plates:
some cast into
a suddenly new
world as though
having sinned;
those kept behind
trapped and
bereft. But in
a person, one
foot will lift
and the split
resolve. So
why do the
feel half left?”

“Plates” suggests dinnerware and tectonics. Families and continents split. The religious resonance is new to Ryan’s poems – “as though having sinned,” “self-saved.” The rupturing of a family, like Eliza and little Harry braving ice floes on the Ohio River, is perilous and painful. Masters split slave families. Alone, Ryan suggests, we survive splits: “one / foot will lift / and the split / resolve.” Of course, wholeness has a price: we, the “self-saved,” feel “half left.” Another California poet who lived in the neighborhood of the San Andreas Fault, Janet Lewis, writes in “Morning Devotion”:

“To bind despair and joy
Into a stable whole.”


William A. Sigler said...

Sometimes the oddest connections are the best ones: the San Andreas fault to cracking ice, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to “King Lear.” Ryan’s poem certainly has the sound of breaking ponds (all those s’s and f’s and l’s and p’s in a rich crackle), but it looks to me like the metaphor gets away (maybe onto an ice floe). I love the way those lines from Lewis, though, tie it back together.

Frozen lakes are always full of people, but it’s the fundamental solitude I think of, as in the Yoko Ono song “Walking on Thin Ice”:

“I knew a girl who tried to walk across the lake,
Course it was winter when all this was ice.
That's a hell of a thing to do, you know.
They say the lake is as big as the ocean.
I wonder if she knew?”

pw said...

I believe that Ryan's early poems contained religious tones. Sorry I don't have examples at my fingertips but do remember reading.

Shelley said...

Someone wiser than I am once said: "You can't get to 'joy' from 'survival.'"

And yet survival seems to be the theme I keep writing about. Hopping ice floes tends to distract the mind from pleasure, except the pleasure of staying alive.

michael reidy said...

STC writing on Keenness and Subtlety "Few men of genius are keen; but almost all every man of genius is subtle. If you ask me the difference between keenness and subtlety, I answer that it is the difference between a point and an edge. To split a hair is no proof of subtlety; for subtlety acts in distinguishing differences - in showing that two things apparently one are in fact two; whereas to split a hair is to cause division, and not to ascertain difference." (from Table Talk October 26: 1831)