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Suszynski: Our best bet

A little over a year ago, I wrote my first column for the paper. At the time, I was preoccupied with the life going on in my backyard. A family of owls had made a home in an old willow bending over with rheumatism. While the hovel is empty this spring, the tree seems to have bowed into a more exaggerated angle.

As you read this, I will be watching my youngest brother graduate college. Just like the young family of owls that left last spring, my brother will also be taking flight to make a life in an economy hunched over and a world dealing with inflammation.

All beings carry echoes of one another. And metaphor making, which is the very basis of language, is simply noticing and recognizing the echoes in the thing, the person, the owl, the brother across from you. I have to remind myself that metaphors are never absolute; they are only sounding out the echo between two unlikely things.



I have been putting together these ideas since I first picked up a book as a child. In communicating, I find that making leaps in comparisons and backpedaling to a good vantage point help me with clarity.

My positions change with the news, from week to week, from second to second, with every conversation. I try to hold firmly to my moral principles, and recognize my own biases, which is admittedly difficult. I try a story on for size, never discard it, simply set it aside, and maybe remake it later. This is the only way I have found that I can move forward from dispiriting events, especially events that make me question my own lived experiences.



There is this poem called “The Fish” by Marianne Moore that I find comforting in the face of confusion. This poem, on the imagistic level, follows a fish fighting through the ocean waves. If you zoom out, there is a lovely message about the cycles of life and death. For my intentions here, I want to focus on the image of the ocean brushing up against a cliff face.

“The water drives a wedge / of iron through the iron edge / of the cliff; whereupon the stars, / pink / rice-grains, ink- / bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green / lilies, and submarine / toadstools, slide each on the other,” the poem goes.

That first line is one I often think of. There are two sides to any argument. There are two sides (but actually infinite sides) to history. Truth often seems like a mirror in which we like to see ourselves.

But this line is brilliant. The water itself, with its iron constituency, drives into a cliff edge made of the same iron will. And these two forces, destructive, weathering but also natural to the point of being blameless, are part of a world — one that is pink and soft, one that has lilies and creatures, the only friction between them is to slide off one another, not the “drive” of an “iron wedge.”

And here in this poem, I also find why I believe that discerning metaphor, making it, dismantling it, rebuilding, re-achieving it, can also become the basis of communication. If metaphors are not absolute, neither are our opinions, nor our histories, nor our truths.

“All / external / marks of abuse are present on this / defiant edifice— / all the physical features of / ac- / cident—lack / of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and / hatchet strokes, these things stand / out on it; the chasm-side is / dead.”

In describing the cliff edge, we also see its marks of abuse. I love that line: “all the physical features of accident.” When we take steps forward, our personalities are often shaped by these accidents, as are the histories of countries and people. And in our histories, we must acknowledge the footholds as much as the grandeur of the cliff face. The poem goes: “Repeated / evidence has proved that it can live / on what can not revive …”

My little brother, who as you read this, is now walking across the stage, will be smiling the smile that I have been watching him make for 22 years. He’s an opinionated guy. He challenges me. He doesn’t read poetry, so often our debates fall into my scrambling to find this one line in this one poem, and him waving me off. My brother is like the owls that left my backyard and not like them. He is like the baby brother that my mom put into my arms, and he is like the young man that calls to update me on his job search as he’s putting gas into his car.

This is all to say that while I am constantly baffled, stumped, angry at language, it is here for us. We use it in so many ways, good and bad, and if language is a system of metaphors, nothing is absolute. An echo first requires somebody to call out, then a surface in which to bounce off of, it returns to us, sounding different. But it also leaves a print on the surface it touched — ricocheted back ever so diligently. In relating to one another, recognizing that we contain these echoes in multitudes is our best bet.


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