May 13, 2013

Everything That Glitters: T.R. Hummer's "Where You Go When She Sleeps"


We’ve all heard notions of falling love as the loss of oneself in merging with another, two souls and psyches becoming one. Over the years I’ve listened to discussions of whether this is love or infatuation or escapism or romanticitis extremis or psychotic delusion or horny ramification syndrome or one more tale we tell ourselves in yet another fit of self-aggrandizement.  

T.R. Hummer’s poem, “Where You Go When She Sleeps,” presents a version of that discussion: being or falling in love is like being a child who falls into a silo full of golden oats, which bury the child. This isn’t agrarian ecstasy; it’s death. And it’s not just death, but the death of a child, one who has teetered on an edge, fallen, and been smothered by the oats he found so alluring.


Some friends and I were discussing the poem, and they—all females—were outraged that Hummer would, even if only in metaphor, exploit the death of a child for the sake of an image conveying the completeness of the speaker’s love as he ponders his lady’s hair while she sleeps. I wondered aloud if--Gary Cooper and Harley-gang appearances to the contrary--males might be more inclined toward such rhapsodic extremism than women. We idolize; women plan. It's the world's dirty little secret. 

Evolutionary biologists tell us that it’s the female who does the choosing in the animal kingdom, of which we humans are a part. If that’s true, it seems to make sense that women respond more practically to potential partners as providers, fathers, reliable companions, escorts, future caretakers, and other unglamorous behaviors.

Does that mean women are less likely to fall into a silo-full of oats in the name of love? If so, is that a good thing?

In a related vein, over the years some female friends have agreed that most women need to experience loving a bastard, but only briefly and only once. Eventually women tend to choose mates more wisely. They want stability and security; it’s in their hard wiring, from chickadees to corporate lawyers.  

Is that true? Is coital pragmatism what it means to grow up? If so, do men ever grow up, or do we just keep tumbling into the vast oat bins at the base of every pedestal?

Near Stratford, Ontario


Anonymous said...

I never went in search of stability and security. I don't think motivations are gender-based, not at all. I think childhood leaves a massive thumbprint on what we seek, though.

Hannah Stephenson said...

This is such an interesting poem....I'm impressed with the crazy momentum it gathers.

It's interesting...the "real" image here for me is the one with the boy drowning in oats. It's the heart of the poems, and then the other stuff bookending it almost falls away for me (almost).

I have heard a few poets talk about how sometimes, poems don't want to say something, but that is what the poem is actually about. I feel that here....the story behind the story.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I didn't catch that this was about falling in love but I guess I can see it that way now. I actually thought he was wondering what the woman dreamed (OK, the lack of a period/punctuation mark in the poem caused me grief!).

The descriptive part of the child falling into the oats - wow. The arms too thin to be wings... imagery!

Is this where we tell you what we sought/seek? Not a bastard, not security and stability. Yes to laughter, adventure, independence.

E. says that death by grain was always a feared in his farming community hometown.

Stickup Artist said...

Isn't that the deep fear men have historically had about "falling" in love, of being consumed (by the grain)? Again, historically, women have had to attach themselves to someone solid, strong, and dependable for survival, because they were rendered so powerless in society. More recently, in some cultures, maybe not so much. Either way, thought conditioning runs deep.

Banjo52 said...

AH, I'd love to hear you elaborate on that, but I suppose it would become too personal.

Hannah, I agree about the "real image" in this poem and the larger idea about what does and doesn't want to (need to) get said. Fascinating ideas to look out for in all poems--what's the real, honest, authentic, urgent core vs. decoration, smoke screens, self-aggrandizement (including "Look how troubled I am-- and thus how pitiful, or how bad ass. Who's as troubled as I? No one."

Brenda, your third item sounds entirely too full of mental health! Just kidding. I hope you speak for many. I'm interested in the premium we place on Laughter . . . . And thanks to E for the farm info. Was that in Wisconsin?

Stickup, I've heard that about FALLING in love. We do like control, don't we. Men more than women? I wouldn't be surprised. I don't see how anyone could argue with your point on women. As a reality check, I learned to remind myself that my grandmothers were adults with children (1917) before they were allowed to vote.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, it wasn't personal -- just a general observation.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I think Hannah made an interesting point about the story behind the story. One solid with the most emotion and the strongest visuals.

I don't think women get to choose their mates. Maybe the most beautiful among us do, but personally, I've never known what it was like to entangle myself with someone I had an overwhelming "falling in love" attraction for. Unrequited - familiar territory.

I think what I found most upsetting in that time of 'looking' was how one could be overtaken with passion for another, yet the other felt nothing in return. Painful stuff.

Lovers' Lane