On my side, knees brought waist-level,
or on my back with legs straightened,
I am lowered down a dimming shaft
to emerge into a viscous atmosphere,
thickened pressure. For hours here
a watcher seldom speaks or
even hears, with limbs that
mostly do not function, become a being
who is menaced, commits and regrets a murder,
screams at an adversary
without effect, is imperiled by the construction of
houses and sheds too close to another dwelling,
or is romanced
or tangled in a quest for
a tray of gold coins.
Nothing is eaten, drunk.
Yet this absence of ordinary sustenance
other than the dense air
is cushioning, as the lack of sky and other spatial
or temporal dimensions weaves a cocoon of monotone
malevolence or

until a cage jars into motion,
lifting the miner.
The emotions of the pit
are osmotically transferred into a self
during the ascent: when the conveyance
bursts onto the surface,
the events that recently occurred linger in tattered chunks
or crumble to silt as
physical memories abruptly return, shadow forth a body
poised to assume my name.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Mine”?

“Mine” was inspired by how strange it feels to fall asleep and descend into the incredibly weird world of dreams, where we live for a night before rising again into ordinary daytime consciousness like miners ascending from working a graveyard shift underground. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971, has a line in one of his poems in which he asks who is the “I” he ordinarily is, if that “I” isn’t the same “I” while he’s asleep and dreaming. Good question, I’ve always thought.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Mine”?

“Mine” is a tower poem—a free verse poem with a flush-left margin and in this case only two stanzas. So on the page it resembles a tower (except for the stanza break). Ordinary prose punctuation is followed, but line-breaks are used to create effects of emphasis and motion, and to slow the reader down so the poem isn’t read as a prose paragraph. The poem is an extended metaphor of the narrator descending below ground and returning from time spent deep in the mine-shaft of the dreaming life.

This poem “MINE” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 188 (Spring 2006): 46.

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