Blog Post #1 March 25


"Heaven"

They say that it's not all white,
That the freeze going up
Is momentary,

Then the full remembrance:
The alley with its morning fog,
Father, piping soup
On the stove's blue rings.
Then the and and and of a child's first years.

Maybe you sit in a chair.
Maybe earth is far below.
The string that ties you to that place
Is just a waver,
Spider skein two thousand years down.

Or maybe the new home is much closer,
Just above the trees,
A sea howl at the window
-or you're those hangers banging
Quietly when the closet door opens.

Conjectures. Little clues,
Really. But we're hopeful that we'll wake.
The chair is for us. The sorting
Of days is done on our fingers.

Lost boot, first girl,
Scar on the chin with its pink hook.


After reading several of Gary Soto's poems, it became clear to me that his style of poetry is one that is indirect and truly makes the reader stop and guess at what the true meaning of the poem is. This poem, "Heaven", is no different. Everyone questions what Heaven is, what it is like, or whether it even exists. Soto takes this uncertain topic and uses it as fuel to create a poem that allows for the reader to analyze in any way, shape, or form that he or she chooses. Soto begins the poem with a long, drawn out sentence describing the journey to Heaven and the initial experiences one has in it. He describes how we are allowed to relive our favorite past memories. The structure of the sentence reflects the meaning behind the first couple stanzas. The long flowing sentence mirrors the slow recollection of past experiences and the slow pace of a lifetime and the memories that come with it. Soto follows up this long sentence with one that is rather short and is only a line long. This short sentence reflects the subject in which Soto brings up the memories of childhood, which like the sentence, happen in a fleeting moment. In the first two stanzas alone, Soto uses vivid imagery to make his version of Heaven even more relatable to every reader. The alley, the fog, a comforting father figure, soup, and bright colors of the stove all contribute to making this description of Heaven seem personable and perfect. In Soto's opinion, Heaven is a place of familiarity where we can enjoy previous experiences, senses and memories all at one time in one setting.

As he keeps describing Heaven, Soto continues to use choppy sentence structure as if to tease the reader. He guesses at whether or not we "sit in a chair" or whether or not "earth is far below". I think this is a clever way to address the idea because by using this short syntax, the reader is quickly forced to make up their own decisions about their beliefs of Heaven. Instantly after reading those two short lines the reader has to stop and wonder if there is any truth in the lines. Instead of giving the answer to the reader, Soto requires that the readers come up with their own conclusions.

One thing I love about this poem is the amount of possibilities Soto covers and the way he conveys the fact that we really know nothing about Heaven and what the world will be like after death. He uses imagery of "the hanger banging quietly" to cleverly address how anything is possible after we die and we will not know until we reach that point in our lives. Soto uses a variety of elements that effectively make the reader guess at whether or not what he is writing is ridiculous or even possible. He uses extremes in order to make the reader consider what they believe in such an innocent poem. The mystery of the poem in my opinion is also what makes it so powerful and interesting.

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"House, Street, Old Man"

Toy tractor under the house, empty clock,
Plumbing that howls like the sea
Within the walls,

And the walls dirty-white where the cat rubbed
And the child of splashed milk
Giggled over a finger game.

Sister roaring places. Wet truck.
Sky making room for clouds, that black threat
Over the grocery, something

For Mr. Bandini to think about
On his porch. Not much
Time for that.

Tomorrow he rolls his car.
His arms freeze
Going up

To that place. The usual white
Squaring off in the eyes.


Most of Gary Soto's poems have a questioning tone to them and this poem, "House, Street, Old Man", is no different. Soto uses a variety of sentence structures and imagery in order to make the reader guess at what he is trying to say. The poem flows in a progression laid out by the title. He begins with a huge flowing sentence that spans two stanzas. This reflects the recollection of the old man as he looks back on his lifetime and the memories he has. The description of the house and the child bring up the question of whether or not this is the old man's house and family. One of the reasons I enjoy Soto is because he creates poems that draw you in with their mystery. The description of the house and the events going on in it allow the reader to feel connected with the story and included in the plot. Soto uses a great deal of imagery and sensory throughout the poem that contribute to its meaning. The "howling plumbing", "walls dirty-white", cloudy sky, and freezing arms are all examples of vivid imagery that make the poem all the more relatable and easier to understand for the reader.

Soto uses some figurative language that provides clues to the environment and situation of the poem. It is not perfectly clear what is going on with the old man, "Mr Bandini", but the clouds which create a "black threat" indicate in my opinion the approaching old man's death. The short syntax used by Soto mirrors the status of the old man. He apparently knows the end of his life is approaching. Similar to the short sentences that continue until the end of the poem, Mr. Bandini's time left alive is very short. He only has a limited time to live and Soto indicates this by using a rushed and short syntax starting with the introduction of Mr. Bandini and his "black threat".

The overall tone of the poem is somber as the old man reflects on his life and accepts that it is coming to an end. Soto uses some clever diction that indicate Mr. Bandini is brave and is ready to face death. He doesn't waste his time pondering his "black threat" or death. He prepares to die and is ready to "go up to that place". The line "...squaring off in the eyes" indicates that Mr. Bandini is prepared to look death in the eyes and square off with the passing of his life. Even in such short lines, Soto is able to convey to the reader that Bandini is courageous and is not afraid of death. He reminisces on the positive experiences of his life and seems to have positive memories and no regrets about his life.


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Blog Post #2 April 13


"Avocado Lake"

A body moves under the dark lake-
The throat is a tube of water, the hands
Are those of a child reaching for his mother.
It may be hours before the body rises
To the surface.

It is even longer before the body is found.
To blow breath in him is useless-
the lungs need to be wrung like a sponge.
The grey film peeled like tape from the eyes.
The curled finger rubbed and kissed.

And now, at daybreak, the willows
Once again hold the heat, and a young girl
On the shore where a friend has gone under,
Skims pebbles across the lake,
Over what remains of him-
His phlegm drifting beneath the surface,
As his life did.

"Avocado Lake" is a heavy poem about a dead man in a lake. What I love about this poem is that it seems to straight forward the first time you read it; however, after studying it you realize there is so much more to the poem than a corpse. In the first stanza, Soto describes the body and gives the reader a better idea about who the person is. He writes, "the hands are those of a child reaching for his mother." This indicates almost a helplessness of the man like a child who reaches out to his mother. The child has no control over its fate which would mean that this man was unable to prevent his own death and that his life was taken rather than some accident. The entire first stanza is one long sentence which Soto uses to mirror the movement of the body in the water. It slowly drifts "under the dark lake" and moves lethargically similarly to the stanza.

The second stanza adds to the mystery of this man's death. Soto writes how "the lungs need to be wrung like a sponge". This could be Soto's way of saying the man needs to wring out his previous life and start over. He needs to expel his past habits and lifestyle which shows perhaps he made some poor choices that ended in his death. As Soto continues to describe the body, he says "the grey film peeled like tape from the eyes". I am a little confused as to what the grey film refers to; however, the idea of the tape peeling from the eyes stands for the man's blindness in his life. Soto is trying to tell the reader that the man perhaps could not see the danger he was putting his life in through the choices he made or the people he associated with.

Soto begins the third and final stanza with the image of daybreak. This is symbolic of a fresh start and a new day. Perhaps the truth about the man's death or murder is discovered. Soto injects a large mystery into the final stanza as well. He inserts a line about "a young girl on the shore where a friend has gone under...". The diction Soto uses and the way he has the girl casually skimming rocks over a lake where her friend floats dead leaves the reader wondering if she was the one who killed him. The closing describes how the "phlegm" drifts beneath the surface as his life did. Soto uses this diction to relate the man's life to mucus. Essentially, the man's life is now worthless and no longer means anything as it drifts away.

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"The Cellar"

I entered the cellar's cold
Tapping my way deeper
Than the light reaches.
I stood in a place
Where the good lumber
Ticked from its breathing
And slept in a weather
Of fine dust.
Looking for what
The old discarded
Some time back,
I struck a small fire
And stepped back
From its ladder of smoke,
Watching the light
Pull a chair
And a portion of the wall
From where it crouched
In the dark.
I saw the small things--
Hatrack and suitcase,
Tire iron and the umbrella
That closed on a great wind
Step slowly, as if shy,
From their kingdom of mold
Into a new light.
But they vanished
When the cold pressed
The fire to a soft glow
Which breathed open and close
Like fresh wound.


Soto uses sharp and effective imagery throughout his poem "The Cellar" to make it more relatable and powerful to the reader. He begins by describing the cellar as a cold and dark place. It represents unknown and mystery and the narrator is forced to "tap" his way deeper into it. Soto uses this idea to show that people fear what they cannot see and cautiously explore the darkness of our lives. As he continues the poem, Soto writes that "the good lumber ticked from its breathing and slept in a weather of fine dust". The personification of the lumber adds to the mystery of the cellar. The strong imagery allows the reader to place themselves in the cellar with the narrator and experience the situation with him or her. The narrator lights a fire and this image of fire is symbolic of every person eventually requiring a light. Whenever someone explores the darkness of their lives or investigate, eventually fear of the darkness and unknown forces them to locate a flame or some source of light. The image of the smoke is very important as it forms a ladder. This is Soto's way of indicating that light is a way out of darkness for everyone. At some time in their lives, everyone is forced to face a dark situation and explore their cellar; however, only when they discover light will they be able to find their way. Soto lists items left behind by "the old". This forces the reader to consider whether or not the cellar could be a metaphor for life. Everyone stores knowledge and memories of their relatives in the cellar of our minds, and it is only when we go in search of those items that we find them in the depths of our brains. The light brings the items out of their "kingdom of mold" which is more elaborate imagery Soto uses to further the idea of light being the key to truth and revelation. The light pulls things out of the darkness and back into reality. The closing of the poem is very interesting though because the cold beings to overpower the fire. The light becomes a "soft glow" and Soto uses the image of a "fresh wound" to describe the flame. This closing image is there to remind the reader that all lights must go out eventually and that we must make use of them while they are still bright.




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