Cool Afternoon

First posted to the Tanka Society of America Facebook page on 1 March 2017, contributing to an online celebration of the society’s publication of its 2016 membership anthology.

To celebrate poems in the 2016 Tanka Society of America members’ anthology, Ripples in the Sand, edited by Jenny Ward Angyal and Susan Constable, I’ve chosen the following poem at random to comment on. It’s by James B. Peters, of Cottontown, Tennessee (page 40):

        working in the yard

        on a cool afternoon,

        the neighbor’s windows

        open wide . . .

        a no-cussing day

At first this poem seems like a straightforward description, but there’s a psychological turn at the end, a moment of respect for decorum. No doubt the yard chores are challenging, or they wouldn’t normally elicit cuss words. What’s less sure, and thus a source of engagement, is the time of year. Is it spring and still cool out while the days are getting warmer? Thus, a day of spring cleaning? Or is it fall and this is one of those first cool days, yet the windows are open out of a lingering summer habit? We may also feel a pang of jealousy in the person working outdoors while his neighbour stays inside.

        A shortened version of the preceding commentary appeared on the TSA Facebook page on 1 March 2017. In response to it, Autumn Noelle Hall commented that she “saw the open windows of the neighbors as an opportunity for eavesdropping. The final line, a no-cussing day, makes me wonder what inside battles the protagonist is normally privy to, and why the neighbors may have taken a cooling-off break from cussing on this particular afternoon.” And of course she’s right—that too makes perfect sense. She also said the poem is “a beautiful example of the way dreaming room leaves space for multiple interpretations.”

Poem originally published in Ripples in the Sand: Tanka Society of America Members’ Anthology 2016, Jenny Ward Angyal and Susan Constable, eds. Tanka Society of America, 2016, page 40.