Guest poem submitted by Maddie Close:
(Poem #637) The Hug
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined Half of the night with our old friend Who'd showed us in the end To a bed I reached in one drunk stride. Already I lay snug, And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side. I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug, Suddenly, from behind, In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed: Your instep to my heel, My shoulder-blades against your chest. It was not sex, but I could feel The whole strength of your body set, Or braced, to mine, And locking me to you As if we were still twenty-two When our grand passion had not yet Become familial. My quick sleep had deleted all Of intervening time and place. I only knew The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
The imagery in the poem is powerful; I could almost see the body pressed against the narrator and feel the embrace. I particularly like the four lines at the end. First, Gunn describes the first bewildering moments of waking up - a complete deletion of "intervening time and place", the unawareness of surroundings. Then, into the unconsciousness, comes a single clue: the "secure firm dry embrace". The first instinct of a sleeper upon waking up is to cement where he is. He seeks out clues, from the sound of cars or sounds from the kitchen,to determine the surroundings. The narrator has only this embrace, this tactile clue: in this moment, symbolically, this person - his lover, presumably - is his world. This expression of the bond between the two is powerful. They have been together long enough to remember when they were young and passionate, and, together still, their love has taken on ever greater importance: no longer fiery passion but an all-encompassing embrace of each other. A little bit about Thom Gunn: "Thom Gunn is a poet known for his daring subject matter. In the mid '50s, after leaving his native England for the American West Coast, he composed strictly rhymed lyrics about Elvis Presley and biker gangs. In his 1972 book Moly, he wrote explicitly of experiences with LSD. In a volume 10 years later, Passages of Joy, he described the "sexual Jerusalem" of the gay scene in New York and San Francisco. But Gunn's poems have never fallen to mere sensationalism. Instead, by using unpredictable subjects that challenge his reader's assumptions and his own, he's raised the stakes of his artwork" (from an article by Peter Campion, The Boston Phoenix). Maddie.