Wild Onions, (edited for dVerse)

[I don’t like to start with disclaimers or explanations, but I feel the need this time to introduce this poem. Some of you have read this one before–I wrote it a few weeks ago for a different poetry prompt community. Forgive me for reposting (I have, hopefully, made a few edits that improved the piece), but one of my friends commented on the original post that she enjoyed my use of enjambment. Since enjambment is what we are after here in this prompt, I automatically thought of this poem. And I also think it meets the criterion of including disparate subjects. Anyway, here goes, for my new friends at dVerse. Join in!]

Wild Onions
Traveling south down the interstate
I passed the mowers mowing,
laying low the overgrowth
along the shoulder of the road.
The sweet smell of cut
grass was mixed with wild onion
which grows in patches here.
Strange how memory resides
in our bodies, not only in our minds;
our very senses pave a road
into the past. I remembered
how, as a kid, I loved
to find these patches,
would crush the thin
leaves in my teeth and wince
at the bitter-ripe taste. But mostly
I remembered a later time,
when I would crank up
the old red Massey Ferguson
to mow the church yard,
twenty sloping acres of grass
and wild onion patches. And you
would come along to ride
beside me, standing on the sideboard
with the dignity of a sentry,
proud to be with me
and I with you. We went
up and down in long
passes, the roar of the rattling
diesel making speech impossible.
Now, for other reasons
speech is impossible,
and I know the meaning
of the words cried out
by David the brokenhearted:
“My son! My son!”
* The last stanza makes use of a story from the Judeo-Christian tradition concerning the Israelite prophet/king David and his son, Absalom. Absalom revolted against his father, and ended up being killed in battle by one of David’s generals. When David heard the news of Absalom’s death, he “wept; and as he went, thus he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” 
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26 thoughts on “Wild Onions, (edited for dVerse)

  1. I remember reading this a few weeks ago. Enjoyed it then and am enjoying it again now. The image of the boy turned to man, the love and admiration for his father, and the respect just shines through this whole piece. I can almost smell and taste the wild onions. Loved the picture of him standing on the sideboard, proud and you proud to have him there.
    A lovely, lovely read Nico.

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  2. This is nostalgic, so wonderful… I especially like:

    Strange how memory resides
    in our bodies, not only in our minds;

    our very senses pave a road
    into the past.

    … and that was some mowing you did!

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  3. Nico, so glad you brought this to us at dVerse this evening. Your use of the sense of smell is so good…I thought I was having an olfactory hallucination! And the enjambment is well done. Thanks for sharing. BTW, my poem is a repost, too. Why not!? Victoria

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  4. nice…really cool piece man and our bodies do hold memories….for me you rung out some of mowing at my great uncles house…took forever as they had a lot of land but i loved every minute of it…the taste of leaves…smiles…you get some nice emotion as well…esp toward the end there…

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  5. We are always told not to live in in the past–I think it is impossible. Though we can choose how to react, our bodies and minds are informed by past experiences. Thanks for your kindness, Laurie.

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  6. Victoria, thanks for providing such a creative prompt. I don't know why my sense of smell is so prominent–I work in a warehouse, and often when packing up laundry detergent, or air freshener, or other smelly thing I am instantly taken to some point in the past.

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  7. I've always liked mowing–it helps that I'm not allergic. When my dad mows he has to wear goggles, dust mask, long sleeves, and nose plugs. Might as well be in a bubble. Thanks for your nice comment, Brian.

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  8. Well, this degree of enjambment works for me. When people write 'free-association', psycho-wandering poetry, the ideas/images/feelings are already so loose that breaking them further just destroys any flow.

    But here, like Kooser (who I am reading now), you tell us a story (poetically) and it all holds.

    Except two things don't work for me:
    (1) “Wild Onions” — unless that his just an analogy I missed, I always find it odd when poets just pick one of their favorite phrases/images in a poem and make it a title. For this poem does not seem about “Wild Onions”.
    (2) Who is in the ending — your son, your father, and why is he not there? Did he have a stroke and can't talk? Or like David's son do something horrible to you — or did you do something horrible to him. Or, given your Christian references, was that “God” at your side, and even so, who makes the call at the end?
    So, I can't tell whose voice it is at the end. And for a poem that gives such an excellent story, a little more to fill out my questions would actually leave this poem in my mind — instead, I will forget it as another incomplete poem.
    And I loved this poem — so I'd love it more complete.
    — Just one person's opinion — an non-skilled writer (but I'd wager there are a lot of us) Poets often write for poets, which I think is a huge mistake. I read through the comments and no one alludes that they understood the ending — maybe they all got it and I am dull or perhaps they were all polite, and I am not. (actually, I would never take time like this to offer feedback if I didn't really enjoy it — ironic, eh!) 😉

    So, given all the above, I could see a poem title like: Mowing with my Father [but I'd still want to know the reason for the Biblical reference]
    [I am following comments]

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  9. Thanks for showing such interest, Sabio. I'll answer as best I can (but I cannot promise you'll like the answers!). The poem moves between several memories, and I tried to tie them all together by using the wild onions as a common feature–so, the smell of onions being mowed down by the road reminded the narrator of chewing on onion leaves when he was a kid, which in turn reminded him of mowing the church yard with his son. In other words, onions were the common element, so I felt justified in using it as the title. Hopefully that makes some sense!

    You are right about the ending being a little cryptic. I do like concrete poetry, but I also like to leave something to the imagination of the reader. If I simply tell the whole story, I think it removes the reader from active participation, or at least makes it difficult for the reader to import his or her own feelings/experiences into the poem. So here I tried to leave some hints at what was going on. David-Absalom hints at an unhealthy father-son relationship; while I know that this is not a reference everyone would get (therefore the note at the end), for better or worse these old stories are a part of my heritage and I cannot (nor do I wish to) rid myself of them. In some ways my poetry could be considered regional. I live in the American South, what Flannery O'Connor called the “Christ-haunted” South. God, Christ, religion, church, bible–we are quickly losing our familiarity with these things, but to some degree they still inform the southern mind even if one does not believe. The David reference–even as far as borrowing his words–is both a nod to my regional influences and, for me, a natural use of one of the most moving stories in my childhood memories. Again, I realize not everyone will feel the same, but that is one of the risks a writer has to take.

    The reason for not being able to speak could be . . . death, or some other barrier to communication, or whatever. The important point is that communication has ended, which is a tragic thing. While, like you, not everyone would fully get that out the poem as it is written, I think most people intuit something along these lines. And I am certainly open to questions if more understanding is desired! I do thank you from my heart, Sabio, for being interested enough to demand answers.

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  10. This is evocative and affecting, using enjambment to enhance the emotional core. I thought the connection between the smell and the memories was logical as neurologically it triggers the most vivid memories.

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  11. @ Nico ,
    Wow, that background helped a lot. I would say, if you were to re-work any of this, that clarifying would make it a fantastic poem for folks like me.

    BTW, the David-Absalom allusion — putting it at the end, without list bit of anything prior to inform seemed like a tease. And that allusion is far from being an “unhealthy” father -son relationship but instead, a deadly one, no?

    I get the hat tip to local culture — that worked fine for me.

    Again, I see great potential in this poem — reminded me of Kooser.

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  12. All my poems are works in progress–I am a poor editor (that is, extremely lazy!), but when I get around to this one I'll certainly consider your suggestions.

    Although I have not consciously modeled my poetry on Kooser, and my work is inferior to his, I appreciate the comparison. His work is definitely an influence, at any rate. Kooser is great company to be in!

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