Category Archives: Poetism Commentaries

Poetism Commentary: “Something Broken”

The poem in question: Something Broken

When I was about 13, my older cousin recommended The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever to me.  I probably shouldn’t have read them till I was a little older, but to this day they remain some of my absolute favorite books.  The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are also very good, and I’ve read the first and second Chronicles several times.  The story and characters had such an impact on me that my wedding ring is made of white gold (Thomas Covenant’s white gold wedding ring is a fundamental element of the tale).

Unfortunately, I didn’t like The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I just pretend they don’t exist.  Maybe I’ll read them again one day and see if I change my mind.

Anyway, in The Wounded Land, the first book of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Thomas Covenant says to another primary character,

There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything.  Give him back something broken.

That line stuck with me, and I wanted to write something based on the words “something broken,” which is how this poem came about.  Despite its flaws, it’s one of my favorite poems that I have written.  I was quite passionate about it, and I think it turned out pretty well.  I also call it my “D” poem, becausemany of the words start with D.  (Get it?  GET IT?!)

My “Something Broken” isn’t about a man who’s lost everything, but rather about someone who is continually making poor choices without regard to consequence.  It was written from an LDS perspective—as I mentioned some time ago in the commentary for Stormy Weather,

In LDS theology the Book of Mormon offers some insights to Satan’s workings in 2 Nephi 26:22 and 2 Nephi 28:21-23.  Basically the idea is that the devil will attempt to be our friend, slowly putting a “flaxen cord” around us so we don’t realize we are under his control, until one day it’s too late, we’re bound by his “awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance,” and he gleefully abandons us and moves on to the task of ensnaring the next poor soul.

The subject of Something Broken—the friend—has taken this path and is beginning to suffer the consequences:

The wool has covered up your eyes just as you said it wouldn’t,
You’re dancing into danger without seeing.
You’re being dragged off to the dungeon where you said you couldn’t,
Destroying the true nature of your being.

But now that he’s lost, he doesn’t see a possible way back and is contemplating suicide as a plausible “out.”  This is evidenced by wandering the rooftop alone, and (maybe my favorite lines from the poem):

Dark and dreary visions deign to occupy your mind:
They try by deep deception to convince you it’s your time.

In this case, suicide is not the way out, it’s just furthering the devil’s victory, but that isn’t easy to realize.

The speaker of the poem hasn’t given up on him, though.  One interpretation of the speaker’s identity is Jesus, though really it could be anyone.  The line

Your dearest friend will then become your foe.

Seems to me like it could easily be misinterpreted.  It’s not that the speaker will give up on his friend, becoming an enemy; rather the lost soul will feel so uncomfortable in his presence that it will simply feel that way to him.

The superficial “something broken” is finally revealed in the final line.  The “broken crown” represents the promised reward from Satan that is ultimately worthless.  However, the real “something broken” is the lost soul.  But the speaker understands that he can come back, and it may be hard, but worth it.

Setting aside the LDS view (since I no longer subscribe), I think it works well enough as cautionary tale of downward spiral.  And though I wrote this a few years before The Lord of the Rings movies were released, the line

The stars are shining brightly but the clouds are hiding them.

Now reminds me of something Sam says to Frodo as they lay shivering in Mordor, near the end of The Return of the King.  Sam looks up at the sky and sees a brief break in the clouds, and says,

Mr. Frodo, look!  There is light, and beauty up there, that no shadow can touch.

Tolkien’s original text is even better:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

The light may be hidden from us at times, but it is always there, waiting to be rediscovered.

Some notes on the original handwritten version, seen below:

The scribbled-out “D’s poem” at the top refers to two different things.  Firstly, as mentioned earlier, I call this my “D” poem, but I also have a friend who has a sister whose name begins with “D.”  People often called her “D” in lieu of her name.  Around the time I wrote this poem, she was also at BYU, and I would often see her around the time of my HEPE class, as it was in the same building as the university swimming pools, and she was a swimmer who apparently practiced around that time.

Next, I can’t decipher all of them, but some of the scribbled-out lines are:

(2-1) And everybody knows your name, so why are you complaining?
(2-6) Your only friend will then become your foe
(3-1) Consequences hinder you from every direction
(4-4) You’re destroying the true nature of your being
(5-3) Run away from dragons that will only bring you down
(5-4) The disaster that results isn’t worth the plastic crown

I think we can all agree those lines are terrible.  A few of the revised lines from the made it to the printed copy from my old web site, before becoming the final published version:

(2-1) Difficulties strewn about, I can see why you complain,
(3-3) Dark and dreary visions come to occupy your mind:
(4-3) You’re being dragged into the dungeon wherein you said you couldn’t,
(5-1) Come back and dwell with me, my friend, please don’t be deceived!

They are better, but I definitely prefer the final version.  And as a final note, although Something Broken will remain as currently published, I offer the following replacement for the final line:

The disaster that’s descending isn’t worth a broken crown.

Poetism Commentary: “Clockface Killed The Man”

The poem in question: Clockface Killed The Man

This is another poem that I wrote in class at BYU, this time in a Computer Science class.  As I recall, it was an 8 a.m. class, and I never have been, nor do I suspect I ever will be, an 8 a.m. person.  Also, the lecture was boring that day, and as I kept looking at the clock, a “Calvin and Hobbes” strip came to mind:

“Calvin and Hobbes,” September 8, 1993. © Calvin and Hobbes, © Andrews McMeel Syndication.

In my poem, the clock is anthropomorphized (a word I learned from another “Calvin and Hobbes” strip) as the entity Clockface.  I don’t know if he is straight-up evil, but he undoubtedly relishes in the misery of people when time is not flying.  When I envision Clockface, I picture a Mirror Universe amalgam of Cogsworth (from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”) and T.T. (from the Nintendo64 game “Diddy Kong Racing”).  He probably has a goatee.

The person in the poem just wants to live life on his or her own terms, without the constrictions of where to be, when, and for how long.  Of course Clockface insists on butting in and screwing those plans right up.

The beginning of the second verse (third stanza) is a reference to a “Dilbert” comic strip, back when it was still funny:

“Dilbert,” October 31, 1993. © Andrews McMeel Syndication.

I have no idea how my poetic salad caused a hospital admission, but it seemed funny at the time, too.

This poem was meant to be a silly poking of fun at the passage of time, but at this point in my life I find a more ironic meaning the progression of the things Clockface says:

Dance for me and prance for me or I won’t let you go

Come to me, succumb to me; you’ll see no need to go

Savor me and favor me so I don’t have to let you go

As a younger man I was always looking forward to the next thing.  I still do that now, twenty-and-more years later, but I am more keenly aware of my own mortality.  Of course time cannot forever contain us; it’s Clockface’s lie to keep us eager for the future, without actually savoring the precious moments we are currently experiencing.  We will inevitably arrive in the future regardless of our current state, so we should make the most of what we have now.

That isn’t to say the the present is always nice, and sometimes the future is all we have to look forward to when the right now is made bleak by forces beyond our control.  But by selling us his lie of making the passable, and even pleasant, present seeming unbearable, Clockface steals from us the one thing we can never recover.

He definitely has a goatee.

As far as the writing style, I don’t have much to say except that one thing bothers me.  In each of the “choruses” (stanzas 2, 4, and 6), the beginning of the third line has a little rhyme, (“dance for me and prance for me,” “come to me, succumb to me,” and “savor me and favor me”).  I think it works nicely.  However, the first verse (first stanza) also has a similar rhyme (“it’s mocking–how shocking!”), and I like it, but I did not replicate the pattern for the second and third verses (stanzas 3 and 5).  I think it sticks out a bit.

Finally, when I read Clockface’s repeated line

Life beyond this torture will be one that you’ll never know

In my head, I hear “this torture” as sung by John Linnell of They Might Be Giants in “Don’t Let’s Start”:

D, world destruction
Over an overture
N, do I need
Apostrophe T, need this torture?

Here is the original handwritten version, largely unchanged from initial scrawl to finished copy:

Poetism Commentary: “I Am Not Your Random Abuse”

The poem in question: I Am Not Your Random Abuse

This is the second poem I wrote when I (arguably) should have been paying attention in my HEPE 129 class at BYU.  As with I’m Not Sorry, written a few days before, the theme is someone who has escaped a bad relationship.  “Random Abuse” definitely seems more forceful to me, though.

It’s written from the perspective of someone who is the victim of constant gaslighting, though I don’t think I had ever heard that term back then.  (Thanks, exit from the LDS church, for teaching me!)  Narcissism also seems play a prominent role in the other party’s actions.

The title is an homage to the They Might Be Giants song “I Am Not Your Broom,” and the TMBG influence can be heavily felt in the meter and rhyming.  However, today when I read this poem, I think if it were a song it would sound something like R.E.M.’s “Mystery to Me.”  The words themselves are almost rambling in nature, and I particularly like the slant rhyme of “something” and “dumpling.”

As evidenced by the image below, the final version went through a fair amount of revision before being deemed “suitable” for publication.  It looks like the only portion that made it unscathed from the initial draft was the final stanza / “chorus.”  One other interesting tidbit is that the two lines before that final stanza were initially part of the web-published version, as my collective printout includes them:

Too bad the soda’s never there when you need it most
If a bottle broke it’s neck on you you might wake up someday

I find those lines at once disturbingly dark (domestic violence innuendo, anyone?) and hilarious: never would 18-year-old me dream of a beer bottle.  It would of course be soda.

The numbers in the margin of the handwritten text indicate the number of syllables per line.  I count those often, but this is the only instance I can find of writing them down.  And finally, here is my attempted transcription of the original text:

I am not your random abuse

You can’t blame me for what’s happened you did to yourself
If you’re distraught it’s not even close to my fault
You run around screaming and that’s why I got out
Your path was destruction never come to a halt
You looked in the mirror and thought I looked back at you
I guess now you’re so far gone that there’s no getting back
Unless of course you finally [unsure] take to heart what I said to you before
You’ve got no real chance to get back on the right track

But you’ve never listened to me before
So why should you bother to start now?
Why would you unstop your ears
You’ve tried so hard to unlearn how
You think that myself did this to yourself
And I tell yourself [unsure] deduce
That fact remains despite your flat rejection: what you may say
I am not your random abuse

You [unsure] out at me from behind bars you put there
Cry so hard that I almost feel sorry for something
But then I remember that you said somehow it’s my fault
And since it ain’t it you’re just all out of luck, my little dumpling
You are not mine, I am not yours
What does it take before you understand what I say?
Too bad the soda’s taken, guzzled years before never there when you need it most
If a bottle broke its neck on you you might wake up someday

It seems to me your brain’s impaired
Or maybe just a little loose
Whatever’s messed inside your head
I am not your random abuse

The final version is definitely more… refined, but the original quick rambling has its share of charm.  Especially

Too bad the soda’s taken, guzzled years before

I mean, if that isn’t golden verse, I don’t now what is.  (Just kidding, I do.)

Poetism Commentary: “I’m Not Sorry”

The poem in question: I’m Not Sorry

I wrote this poem, and at least one other, during a class at BYU: HEPE 129 (it’s pronounced “heppie”).  I believe it was called “Fitness and Lifestyle Management,” though that may have changed in the 20 years since I was there.  It was a class I took for P.E. credit, because I was, and am, adverse to actual physical education.

My then-girlfriend was also in the class, and I would often find ways not to pay as much attention as I should.  One time a friend of my girlfriend was talking to me and I said something about doing something “metaphorically.”  Confused, she asked if I meant “metaphysically,” and my girlfriend rolled her eyes and responded, “No, he definitely means metaphorically.”  I have no recollection of any other part of the conversation.

Anyway, one day during class I jotted down “I’m Not Sorry.”  It doesn’t have any particular personal meaning that I recall; I just thought it would be funny.  I guess it’s obstensibly about someone getting out of a bad relationship.

The lyrical style is inspired by They Might Be Giants, probably their song “Hey Mr. DJ I Thought You Said We Had a Deal.”  At the time I must have been listening to TMBG a lot, as the back side of the page on which I wrote “I’m Not Sorry” contains the lyrics to “The End of the Tour,” which I maintain is one of their finest compositions.

For me, the dearth of punctuation in the poem emphasizes the flippant attitude of the speaker toward the person he is addressing; he can’t be bothered to dress it up for her.

There are some minor variations in the different versions I have.  The lines

Act like I haven’t even heard
And you’ll slam the phone down in my face

are sometimes written as

And act like I haven’t even heard
You’ll slam the phone down in my face


Appeal, appeal to my guilt sense
Entice me, you must think I’m dense

is sometimes written as

Appeal, you appeal to my guilt sense
Entice me, you must think I’m so dense

The last two lines as originally written are

I don’t wanna see you anymore
Because I already said I’m sorry once before.

Finally, here is an image of the original handwritten version:

Poetism Commentary: “Means To The End”

The poem in question: Means To The End

About the time this poem was written, my family took a trip to Oregon, via motor home.  I don’t recall if it was the primary purpose, but we visited some extended family there.  We also drove through the redwood forest in northern California, where I bought some “happy rocks,” which are little tiny rocks with smiley faces drawn on them.

It was a long drive (I know approximately how long, given that last fall I made a similar drive with my wife and children), but it was nice to have a bit of room to move around in rather than just being crammed into our minivan.  As I recall, the old LDS movie Saturday’s Warrior was watched over and over during the drive by my sisters, along with My Girl.  I read some books, and I think wrote this poem during or shortly after the trip.

The reason the subject matter was on my mind, I think, is that a shortly before we left, our bishop stopped by for an impromptu interview regarding whether I should be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood.  In another six months I would be 19 years old and eligible to serve a mission for the LDS church.  We had a brief discussion and the bishop told me he would consider things while our family was gone.

Throughout my life, I have often had a difficult time fully relating to things that I could not tangibly experience, though the written word helped me out a lot, in that it was both easy to ingest emotion and to filter out things I didn’t really want to experience.  So one of the ways I tried to experience a deeper closeness to the Lord was to write about him from a fictional spectator’s point of view.

The title Means To The End is a mixed bag.  It evokes the common phrase “the ends justify the means,” which does not generally carry positive connotations.  I suppose I was trying to turn that around somehow.  I’m not sure how appropriate it is, but I stand by it.

A man who has been traveling for a while sees Jesus ahead on the road, and looking for some walking company (but not necessarily anything else) speeds up a little to catch him.  The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth is that He’d like to be friends.  For me, that is the fundamental characteristic of Jesus.  Regardless of all the other godly characteristics He may possess, the personal relationship is first and foremost.

The man is a little taken aback by this statement; I just met you and that’s the first thing you say to me?  But he’s drawn in by a kind smile.  He’s not a sucker; I like to think that when Jesus smiles, you just feel that good.  Within just a short amount of time, Christ has been betrayed and is on trial.  Despite not knowing Jesus personally for long, the man already knows “no horm could this man ever do.”

Then the scene switches to the Crucifixion.  Despite the reworking (and somewhat recontextualizing) of the famous words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” I think the heart of the matter is actually in the middle of the last stanza:

I caught His gaze and saw the passion hidden deep within
And in that moment, He quelled all my fears.

Again, despite the overarching reach of Jesus to be a savior for everyone, the focus for this person is, well, personal. Even though this moment is terrible, he is individually reassured.  And that’s what I think Jesus is all about.  It is also in this final stanza that the capitalization of pronouns referring to Jesus commences.  It’s at this moment of true, personal connection that he becomes Him.

Now, a few words about a different, apparently earlier version of the text.  I have one that changes three lines.  The first is inconsequential: the last line of the second stanza,”This man would serve them better dead” became “The man would serve them better dead.”

The second is also relatively of little note: near the end of the first stanza, “We set off again, and as we walked…” became “We walked again, and as we walked….”  I think the final version flows better.

The third change is the most interesting to me.  The lines

I scurried to catch up to him, and so he looked at me
And straightway said he’d like to be my friend.

originally read:

I scurried to catch up to him, and so he looked at me
And told me that he’d like to be my friend.

The change to use of the word straightway was deliberate.  The word is used several times in the King James Version of the New Testament, and I take its meaning to be that of suggesting immediacy.  The reference I always connect with use of the word is Mark 1:18, where Jesus tells some of the apostles who are fishermen to follow Him, and “straightway they… followed him.”  The use in my poem reinforces to me the priority of Jesus to establish a personal friendship with each of us.

Finally, two years later, while serving as a missionary in France, I used this poem as a basis for one I wrote in French to share with members of the Church there.  I debated whether to give the text its own blog entry, but I think maybe it fits here.  I am pretty proud of the job I did of translation, especially the use of the passé simple tense, which is generally reserved for literary or other written texts.  It is not something generally learned in high school French class or as part of missionary language training (but is used in The Book of Mormon and the Bible), so I had to struggle to get it right.

Mon Plus Beau Cadeau

Je rencontrai un homme l’autre jour qui me dit de le suivre.
D’abord, je m’en méfiai, mais il sourit.
J’oubliai toute pensée que ce fût un homme méchant
et sus que par lui je serais nourri.
Il me parla des chose si simples, des choses si évidentes;
je crus que n’importe qui pouvait les faire.
Moi, je n’eus pas l’idée en tête qu’il pût être contredit,
mais, tristement, j’appris le contraire.

Il y en eut certains qui le haïrent, certains qui voulurent le trahir.
Sans preuve de culpabilité ils voulurent voir son sang versé.
Je savais, tout au fond de moi, qu’il n’avait enfreint aucune loi,
mais ils crièrent toujours plus fort: «Il faut que l’homme soit mis à mort!»

Il survécut une nuit d’enfer avant d’être même plus tourmenté.
Sans se dérober, il prit la coupe qui lui fut confiée.

Je regardai son agonie, monté sur sa croix,
versant mes larmes sur cet homme de bien.
Puis je vis la passion qui était dans son regard
et tout à coup, je ne craignis plus rien.
Ses lèvres s’ouvrirent et j’entendis les mots qu’il chuchota:
«Tu vois, O Père, combien j’aime ceux-ci.
Me voici, Fils Bien-Aimé, qui meurs pour tes enfants,
celui qui prie d’épargner ses brebis.»

Quel amour me remplit le cœur en entendant ces mots précieux:
il mourut pour que moi, je vive, en sa presence toujours aux cieux.

The rough English translation of the above text is:

My Most Beautiful Gift

I met a man the other day who told me to follow him.
I didn’t trust him at first, but he smiled.
I abandoned all thought that this was a wicked man
and knew that I would be nourished by him.
He spoke to me of things so simple, so obvious;
I thought anyone could do them.
I couldn’t imagine that he could be contradicted,
but, sadly, I learned otherwise.

There were certain people who hated him, who wanted to betray him.
Without proof of guilt they wanted to see his blood spilled.
I knew, deep down, that he had broken no law,
But they cried louder, “This man must be put to death!”

He survived a night of hell before being tormented even more.
Without shrinking away, he took the cup that was given him.

I watched his agony, mounted on his cross,
spilling my tears over this good man.
Then I saw the passion in his gaze
and suddenly I feared nothing.
His lips opened, and I heard the words he whispered:
“You see, O Father, how much I love these.
Behold me, Beloved Son, who dies for your children,
he who prays to spare his sheep.”

What love filled my heart in hearing these precious words;
he died that I might live in his presence forever in heaven.