Anna Yin’s “Raspberries” [Read the poem here]
(First published in Issue #9 of Cha, this poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2009.)
There is not a wasted word in Yin’s “Raspberries”. The poem is a concise exploration of a moment; a modern interpretation of the kind of classical Chinese poems in which a specific scene, thought or feeling is condensed and captured in the most economic way. Yet, despite its focus on a particular instant, Yin’s poem still allows for any number of interpretations.
The poet’s inspiration is clearly nature in this work, and throughout the poem, she uses different natural elements in simple yet powerful images. But people are present too—we see a world in which the natural and human spheres are closely blended. Take, for example, the first lines: ‘On our bed / we lie like flatfish’ (L1-L2). Already, the mixture is evident, even if the exact meaning of these lines is not entirely clear. Does the metaphor suggest post-coital exhaustion? Or does it reveal a sense of apathy and laziness as the couple rest motionless, the way certain species of flatfish lie on the ocean floor? The lines may also contain the obvious double meaning of telling lies, which may suggest that the relationship is somehow tainted. Is the poet imagining a couple who no longer love each other but continue the relationship out of sheer habit?
Next, Yin takes us out through the bedroom window into the night air: ‘Outside, stars grow old. / A white cocoon / casts its image on the river’ (L3-L5). The notion of stars, entities which have a life span of millions of years, growing old perhaps reveals a certain arrogance on the characters’ part. Are they projecting their own weariness onto the stars? Considering its placement next to the stars, it seems likely that the cocoon being described is the moon. This is also suggested in at least two other ways. Firstly, one can imagine that a white crescent moon resembles a cocoon when it is reflected on the water. Secondly, there is a kind of subtle poetic rhyming slang in which ‘cocoon’ immediately suggests ‘moon’.
In the next lines, the poet continues to conjure the natural night-time scene: ‘In sparse shadows / a willow dangles. / Along the thorn fences / raspberries bleed’ (L6-L9). With only a handful of carefully selected words, Yin manages to evoke a strong sense of atmosphere, transporting the reader to the still river’s edge. Yet, although very little seems to be happening, there is a sense of unease and violence filling the night air. ‘Sparse’ and ‘dangles’ suggest a certain limpness and helplessness, perhaps taking us back to the ‘flatfish’ of the second line and echoing the characters’ feelings for each other. The more violent language of ‘thorn’ and ‘bleed’ increases the tension. But it is not an active form of aggression; instead, it is more passive as the raspberries slowly rot on the bush and bleed their juices. That the reader is supposed to identify the bruised fruit with the couple is indicated by the fact that ‘Raspberries’ is the title of the poem. Like the berries, they too are slowly decaying on the fence.
The slight violence of ‘bleed’ and ‘thorns’ also provides emotional foreshadowing for the final section of the poem, which reads: ‘They remember - / once being the fire / drawing the moth / flapping its wings / to flames’ (L10-L14). Here, we are presumably transported back to the passionate start of the characters’ relationship in which each of them was self-destructively drawn to the other. But if they had imagined being consumed by the heat of their relationship, they were wrong. Instead, as we see in the opening lines, their love does not end in a great conflagration but ebbs into motionless regret.
Anna Yin was born in China; she immigrated to Canada in 1999. She has more than 80 poems published internationally. In 2005, Yin received the Ted Plantos Memorial Award and her poem “Toronto, No More Weeping” was aired on CBC Radio. She is a member of The Ontario Poetry Society and is Director of the Chinese Cultural Federation of North America. Yin was selected as CFP Feature Poet for February (2006) by Canadian Federation of Poets. Her poems and ten translation works were selected for the textbook of Canada Study for international students by Humber College in 2007. Visit her website for more details.