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Ann Stanford's "The Beating"
Introduction and Text of Poems, "The Beating"
The speaker in Ann Stanford's "The Beating" describes an experience of being brutally beaten. The drama begins to unfold one "blow" at a time, and the first three come quickly, one per line. The poem consists of six unrimed verse paragraphs (versagraphs).
(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
The first blow caught me sideways, my jaw
Shifted. The second beat my skull against my
Brain. I raised my arm against the third.
Downward my wrist fell crooked. But the sliding
Flood of sense across the ribs caught in
My lungs. I fell for a long time,
One knee bending. The fourth blow balanced me.
I doubled at the kick against my belly.
The fifth was light. I hardly felt the Sting.
And down, breaking against my side, my
Thighs, my head. My eyes burst closed, my
Mouth the thick blood curds move through. There
Were no more lights. I was flying. The
Wind, the place I lay, the silence.
My call came to a groan. Hands touched
My wrist. Disappeared. Something fell over me.
Now this white room tortures my eye.
The bed too soft to hold my breath,
Slung in plaster, caged in wood.
Shapes surround me.
No blow! No blow!
They only ask the thing I turn
Inside the black ball of my mind,
The one white thought.
First Versagraph: "The first blow caught me sideways, my jaw"
The speaker says, "the first blow" was aimed at the side of her head, and it caused her jaw to become dislocated. The second blow came rapidly and "beat my skull against my / Brain." The blows continued one after the other, and the third came with the third line.
The victim lifted her arm in a defensive move, but it was knocked out of the way quickly: "Downward my wrist fell crooked." There is a moment between the third and fourth blows. As her defensive arm was deflected down, she felt a "sliding // Flood of sense," which bleeds into the next versagraph. Her sense of time becomes confused.
Second Versagraph: "Flood of sense across the ribs caught in"
Between the third and fourth blows some time elapses, and the fourth blow does not appear until the third line in the second versagraph. The fourth blow came as she was falling, and it seemed that as she was falling, it took "a long time."
One knee was bending, and as she was going down, the fourth blow came, and unexpectedly that blow "balanced [her]." But suddenly she doubled over as she was kicked in the belly. This kick is not even part of the blow tally.
Third Versagraph: "The fifth was light. I hardly felt the"
Finally, the fifth blow arrived, and it "was light." She says she hardly felt "the / Sting." But the blows kept coming; she stopped counting them and simply suffered them. The blows continued "breaking against my side, my / Thighs, my head."
The victim says, "My eyes burst closed." This oxymoronic claim seems odd: to describe "closing" with the word "burst" which usually refers to "opening."
But the pressure mounting in her skill and throughout her body, no doubt, made it seem that her eyes closed because the eyeballs had burst open. In her mouth she felt blood that was clotting, and she describes the clots as "blood curds."
Fourth Versagraph: "Were no more lights. I was flying. The"
In the fourth versagraph, the speaker could not see any longer, and she described the failure of vision as "no more lights." She was nearly comatose, unable to move but the motionlessness seemed as though she were flying.
She experienced "the Wind" as though she were flying, but she knew she was simply lying there in a pool of blood in her mangled body, and then there was "silence." Trying to call for help, she was only able to "groan."
The speaker finally realizes that someone was there to care for her, probably paramedics. She knew that, "Hands touched / My wrist. Disappeared." And then "something fell over me." The paramedics have placed a blanket over her before they carry her out to the ambulance.
Fifth Versagraph: "Now this white room tortures my eye"
In the fifth versagraph, the speaker regained consciousness in the hospital: the brightness hurt her eyes. She was wearing a body cast because of her broken ribs. The bed was soft, and she was relieved to see only medical equipment around her.
Sixth Versagraph: "No blow! No blow!"
In the final versagraph, she realized that she was not being beaten any longer, and she gasped, "No blow! No blow!" The nurses and doctors did not expect anything from her, only that she relax and begin the healing process, which to her at that point seemed to be, "The one white thought."
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes