This week I’m excited to share a poem by Chelsea Bunn. I’m always a fan of poems that are able to evoke through juxtaposition. In “Missed Connections” (below), what is being juxtaposed is the speaker’s present surroundings with the memories that the surroundings evoke. This evocation is set up first through the clear naming of things: “the downtown 6,” “5 o’clock,” “an accordion,” etc. This clear naming grounds the poem in the speaker’s experience. The poem builds momentum through its descriptions which keep the reader “looking” at things alongside the speaker while an emotional undercurrent begins to build.
The poem takes a turn at the fifth couplet with the direct introduction of the idea of time past. This turn is furthered through the line “Private in my infuriating grief — ” which pivots the poem into the speaker’s inner memory world. What happens next is another clear naming of things, similar to the opening, but one that parallels the real world with memory. The echoes and differences here deliver emotional presence through juxtaposition. The “accordion” from the second stanza, for example, is mirrored in the “ventilator” mentioned in memory. What was handled through distance in the present is suddenly re-presented in a way that is intimate and personal.
While this richness alone is a gift of the poem, it’s the ending that drives home the connection to human experience. This speaker caught in meditation between the present and the past is, at the end, found at a loss. All the clear naming and juxtaposition becomes all the more insistent and urgent with the final line “The things I couldn’t say.” This final line is another act of naming that points to what can’t be named, what has eluded the vision and scope of this speaker. Evoked in this manner, the two narratives of the poem show how poetry can be a place where “missed connections” can be acknowledged, honored, and felt for what they mean.
Missed Connections – Chelsea Bunn
Waiting for the downtown 6 at 5 o’clock,
my other life comes rushing back in waves.
A man straps an accordion to his chest, opens
and closes its bellows, delivering long columns
of sound into the stagnant August air.
Across the platform, pairs of schoolchildren
march in procession, arms linked as if when someone
knows who you are, you won’t get left behind.
You: two years absent, phantom that I drag around.
Me: one year sober, still locked inside myself.
Still sequestered, still on edge.
Private in my infuriating grief—
waking daily from the dream of my father in his hospital bed,
ventilator squeezing and sucking at his chest even after he is gone,
after the blonde nurse has wrapped her clean arms around me,
after the long, low moan of the monitor.
The early morning light blasting through the windows.
The things I couldn’t say.
(originally published by Maudlin House, February 2018)
Chelsea Bunn is the author of Forgiveness (Finishing Line Press, 2019). She holds an MFA in Poetry and a BA in English from Hunter College. A two-time recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, she serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing for Navajo Technical University. Find out more at chelseabunn.com