Friday, April 1, 2011

Christopher Munde on “Entomology of Exhaustion” and “What Was Gentle Has Turned Careful”

“Entomology of Exhaustion” and “What Was Gentle Has Turned Careful” are my attempts to articulate a father's transformation from victim of circumstance and unfocused aggression to aggressor against order and focused love.

“Entomology . . .”'s narrative premise, which is laid out in the first stanza, was drawn from my own father's experience of having to excavate through the residuum of the World Trade Center to get to his job across the street. In a very physical sense the return path from horror to the boredom of his job was obstructed by the desks and walls and bodies of thousands of his peers. In the poem, this unexpected work sets in motion a psychological change, wherein the father attempts to block out the white-noise political “sense” of the attack by aligning it with his feelings of drowning amid a family and its needs.

I wanted to bear out this progression in the form, with thought's lolling lines repeatedly enjambed to mimic both the systematic repetition of the work and the character's precarious logical leaps. Lines edge forward and draw back in light of the terrible implications leaching into his consciousness, yet the work he is aware of performing (both physical and mental) only distracts him while his values are slowly deformed. The insect similes thread the scene thematically and serve as biological precedents for the gestating ideas.

This biological theme is echoed and further solidified by the body farm scene in “What Was Gentle Has Turned Careful.” The term “body farm,” in my somewhat simplified understanding of the process, refers to land where donated bodies are cast as stand-ins for suspected crime victims by forensic scientists, who track their decomposition with the hope it will reveal clues to a crime. The elements, faceless aggressors, weather the bodies while a detached scientist merely records the decomposition process and its lifelike attributes. By interweaving the parallel narratives of the father acting out his version of a forensic pathologist (clearly a dream) and performing a lonely familial duty (possibly real), I tried to make clear the clinical perspective overtaking all aspects of his life. As the similarities between the threads pile up, distinctions become vaguer, until the father is left as an observer, seated in an auditorium at a work site that is unambiguously real.

Initially, I struggled with the presence of the two narratives in “What Was Gentle . . . ,” and briefly, with my own impulse toward using narrative at all. There followed a shorter version in which the home life thread was excised and the forensic narrative was cyclical and evasive, yet I ultimately chose to go back to the original form, since I feel the details of both scenes are what compel the reader to temporarily share the father's mindset. While the father is only “someone's” in “Entomology . . . ,” here he gains a particular family and enacts the process of willful disassociation. Only after the two threads culminate in the father’s analyzing all bodies as art on a stage did I want the rift between my character and the reader to open.