Jane Kenyon – “The First Eight Days of the Beard”
1. A page of exclamation points.
2. A class of cadets at attention.
3. A school of eels.
4. Standing commuters.
5. A bed of nails for the swami.
6. Flagpoles of unknown countries.
7. Centipedes resting on their laurels.
8. The toenails of the face.
I’m psychic. I can tell what you’re thinking. It’s something like, “Wtf???”
At least, that’s what I thought when I first read this, especially after reading a number of her other poems in the aptly titled Collected Poems. Usually Kenyon is very concrete, physical, simple. Even her metaphors are pretty straightforward.
I’m not really sure what I can say about this poem, except that it makes me smile every time I read it. And it certainly gets me thinking of unusual ways to describe things. For some of these, I can get why certain lines might represent a certain number of days of beard growth.
#2 A class of cadets at attention – On day 2, the growth would be still new, like the young cadets; yet they are becoming visible, standing at attention like the facial hair starting to darken the skin.
#5 Perhaps the roughness of the stubble by that day is like a bed of nails; yet, like the swami on the nails, the coarseness could be just fine if rubbed against someone who doesn’t mind the sensation.
But a school eels? Centipedes on their laurels? The toenails of the face??? I’m not sure what you’re saying here, Jane. I read in a memoir by her husband, Donald Hall, that she had written this about him while they were on a plane; I guess that, while traveling, he hadn’t had time to shave. If only we could look as freshly and inventively at those near us as Kenyon does in this poem.