Larissa Szporluk on the Stone Boy

This poem is a hybrid, the most grueling kind of poem for me to resolve: two separate poems that had bottomed out for lack of dramatic interest. In combining them, I was forced to incorporate the drama of their encounter, or collision in this case, and eventually an organic narrative developed, after much resistance-a story of cancer. Because this poem is also in the stone boy narrative, it marks a mid-way point in the boy's relationship with his mother. He still thinks of her rather aggressively, even though he's beginning to sense she is gone. What remained from the two originals: "Hear this! Hear this!" had been a creepy vendor poem, a man selling poisoned halvah; the horse references, from the other poem, were part of a half-baked retelling of the rape of Lucretia. Cancer seems like a natural progeny of those narratives. It's only after getting inside of a hybrid and acting on it (from within) that any magic can happen, at least for me. That's not to say the poem is magical. It's just that once I arrived at "penetrate that dragon" I'd had enough! One of the ridiculous tasks I set for myself in my new manuscript is to run a continuous narrative (story about a giant stone boy's head that falls to earth) but somehow manage the poems so that they have individual lyrical value. With "Stars and Marrow" I wanted the quasi-epistle form to signal the boy's returning affection for his mother and his deepening sense of shame for what he'd done (he was instrumental in her death). Simultaneously, I wanted the poem to be about the death penalty ("high iron chair") as well as zoo musicology-the music of animals. I liked the idea of humans recognizing only too late that all along the animals have been making bona fide music, much in the way that our love for the world seems to crystallize when it's too late; that is, just before death. Because Anoton (the stone boy) is finally dying, the raining stones are symbols of his recognition of that fact. The diatonic sloth sets up the dichotomy of good and bad, which then gets perverted by the "irony" of the electric chair: killing to send the message that killing is wrong. A friend of my mother's, English professor at Oxford no less, noticed a dangling participle in lines 16-17. My mother said, "You'll have to change that." I tried. But the more I thought about it, the more accurate it seemed to me as was: the waves are the electricity, and they are "strapped" into the chair in a manner of speaking-besides, isn't the death penalty recipient at that point sort of "gone"? Although the "I" comes back. Darn it. It's this kind of fussing that's making me crazy. I never wanted my relationship to language to get this micro-level.

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Larissa Szporluk