A cup of fine tea: Gillian Sze’s “Sonnet II”

Gillian Sze’s “Sonnet II” [Read the poem here]
(First published in issue #6 of Cha)

–This post is co-written by Tammy Ho and Jarno Jakonen.

On the surface, Sze’s poem is about a man and a woman driving through the countryside, but it is eventually revealed that the man is troubled by past memories, especially the memory of his father.

The man’s female companion – and the persona – recounts the couple’s driving ‘south to Dundee’, the location where the man’s ancestors had settled (L1-L2). The memories of that place are not happy ones: an ‘affair’ (L5) by the man’s father apparently quartered the son irreparably – ‘Your father’s affair severed you in four’ (L5). The affair seems to be a romantic one and as a result the man is now shared by four families. Even if one sees the affair as something else, the severity of it still implies that its result was not just a broken home but perhaps something more traumatic. What is further stated is the consequences of the ‘affair': the man was no longer able to continue his rural family livelihoods, ‘your cut limbs / couldn’t hold a fishing rod, a rifle’ (L7-L8). Presumably, he moved to the city and never returned again: ‘You haven’t returned to the old brick house’ (L6).

The third stanza of the poem steps back from what may have happened in the past and generalises the sentiment with a description of a flock of geese, visible outside the couple’s car window, taking to the air: ‘Outside the window, snow geese gather on the ice / and you slow down to look out my side, / tell me as they all rise up at once, / When one goes, rest of them follow ‘ (L9-L12). Here, the departure of the white birds echoes the man’s own disconnectedness from his roots, an experience which is compared to severed limbs (L7) and is therefore a rather permanent debilitating condition. Indeed, the remark in the first stanza that the man’s ancestors, ‘a family of masons’ (L3) came to Dundee from Scotland ‘bringing nothing much but a spinning wheel’ (L4) implies that they were likewise torn from their roots and had to build their lives from scratch. Leaving home, then, seems to be a recurrent fate for different generations in the man’s family.

In the end, the geese1 flee from the cold icy ground (L13-L14); they are likely heading to a more desirable habitat. We should be happy for them; at least they are not birds scared into the air and then duly shot down, hunted. The reader is left to hope that perhaps our protagonists will also overcome the past and leave for somewhere better.

1 See a picture of flying geese by Dave Bonta here.

Afterword
by Gillian Sze

“Sonnet II” is part of a larger manuscript, a sonnet series consisting of twenty-eight pseudo-sonnets that narrate a brief affair between the speaker and an individual who is nicknamed “Boy Wanderer.” The story takes place in Quebec and extends out to the west coast. Their relationship supersedes the broken relationship of Boy Wanderer’s parents and I use that as a foil for their story.

Gillian Sze [website] was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her poetry collection, Fish Bones (DC Books, 2009), was shortlisted for the QWF McAuslan First Book Prize. She is the author of three chapbooks published by Withwords Press and her work has appeared in a number of national and international journals. The Anatomy of Clay, a poetry collection, is forthcoming from ECW Press in April 2011. She is also co-founder and co-editor of Branch Magazine. Sze has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Concordia University and resides in Montreal. [Also see Sze's Cha profile.]

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One Response to “A cup of fine tea: Gillian Sze’s “Sonnet II””

  1. Bob Bradshaw Says:

    A killer ending….the last two lines of a poem don’t get much better.

    Thanks! Bob

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