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Carolyn Forché's "Poem for Maya"

Updated on December 11, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Carolyn Forché

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Poem for Maya"

Carolyn Forché’s "Poem for Maya" consists of 21 free verse lines. The poem segments into five sentences, uneven, with the first sentence running the first five lines. The second contains the next four lines, as does the third. Then the fourth is only one line. The fifth fills out the final seven lines.

Poem For Maya

Dipping our bread in oil tins
we talked of morning peeling
open our rooms to a moment
of almonds, olives and wind
when we did not yet know what we were.
The days in Mallorca were alike:
footprints down goat-paths
from the beds we had left,
at night the stars locked to darkness.
At that time we were learning
to dance, take our clothes
in our fingers and open
ourselves to their hands.
The veranera was with us.
For a month the almond trees bloomed,
their droppings the delicate silks
we removed when each time a touch
took us closer to the window where
we whispered yes, there on the intricate
balconies of breath, overlooking
the rest of our lives.

Carolyn Forché reading "Poem for Maya"

Commentary

First Movement: Playing Hide and Seek - Who is Maya?

Dipping our bread in oil tins
we talked of morning peeling
open our rooms to a moment
of almonds, olives and wind
when we did not yet know what we were.

The speaker of "Poem for Maya" lets the reader know right away that she will be playing a game of hide and seek in the following 21 lines. The reader begins to guess, first of all: who is Maya?

Then in the first line, it appears that Maya is a friend or an acquaintance of the speaker, and the two friends spent some time in Mallorca, "Dipping their bread in oil tins."

They talked about morning "peeling / open our rooms to a moment of almonds, olives, and wind." And as they did this or rather as morning did this to their rooms, they did "not yet know what [they] were."

Second Movement: Boring, Uneventful Days

The days in Mallorca were alike:
footprints down goat-paths
from the beds we had left,
at night the stars locked to darkness.

Apparently, the time the two spent in Mallorca was rather boring and uneventful. During the day, they took walks "down goat-paths" after leaving their beds, as opposed to taking a walk while remaining in bed as poets are often wont to do, and at night they observed that "the stars" were "locked to darkness."

Of course, these silly stars are the same everywhere, surrounded in the darkness of the night. But we must remember that these two friends or acquaintances did not yet know what they were, so they might have expected the stars to be otherwise in a place like Mallorca.

Third Movement: Details of Unimportance

At that time we were learning
to dance, take our clothes
in our fingers and open
ourselves to their hands.

The speaker then reveals that the two friends were learning to dance, which included "tak[ing] our clothes / in our fingers and open[ing] / ourselves to their hand." To their partners, it must be speculated. Yet the speaker does not elaborate why she mentions this insignificant detail. But the reader is acutely aware that the detail was important to the speaker and her friend.

Fourth Movement: Vera Who?

The veranera was with us.

This line is baffling, and the reader must wonder if the word "veranera" is a typo. "Veranera" refers to a plant similar to the bougainvillea. Speculation leads to possibilities such as "verano" meaning "summer"; it would make more sense to say that summer was with us than that the flower was with us. But perhaps the naïveté of the speaker is better preserved with the term "veranera."

Fifth Movement: When Poet Tries to be Poetic

For a month the almond trees bloomed,
their droppings the delicate silks
we removed when each time a touch
took us closer to the window where
we whispered yes, there on the intricate
balconies of breath, overlooking
the rest of our lives.

The kernel of meaning nestled in the last seven lines is the simple declarative, "the almond trees bloomed." The rest is pure description that reveals a poet trying to be poetic, but simply mangling the effort. The trees bloomed for a month.

Why is this important? Were you there only for a month? They dropped filaments that the speaker and her friend "removed" every time a "touch" brought them "closer to the window." Whose touch? How does that happen, that a disembodied touch brings you closer to a window?

At the window, they whisper "yes" on the "intricate / balconies of breath," and they were "overlooking / the rest of [their] lives." Just what can be inferred from "intricate / balconies of breath"? Is that the bosoms? Is it simply referring to their breathing while standing on a balcony and looking out from their rooms? Regardless, it does, indeed, sound so profound when the speaker asserts that they were "overlooking / the rest of [their] lives."

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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