Name Instructor Class 3 May 2013 The Past that Kills in Chan’s “Inescapably Me” Memories of the past can be fatal. Justine Chan’s poem “Inescapably Me” explores the hardships of living in the past. The allusion to Quentin’s monologue from William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury, suggests themes of memory, language, and death…
The poem argues that to live in the uncertainties and regrets of the past kills people’s ability to move on and live for the present and the future. The use of first person and second person makes the poem immediate and personal, wherein memories are expressed in terms of the past’s close relationship with the present and future. The second person shows that the speaker wants to be in a conversation. Readers are invited to enter his world: “…If you ask the little bald/clerk…” (Chan 3-4) “…you could slip into one of them,/so nice and cool, and see if it will fit, with your arms folded/nicely, hands over your heart…” (Chan 5-7). The speaker wants the audience to participate in the act of feeling death by asking them to enter the coffin. A personal relationship is established, where the “you” can try understanding the “I” of the poem. Moreover, the first person results to immediacy and intimacy too. Immediacy helps readers feel that they are inside the mind of the speaker, who is argued as a male because of his relationship with a woman, although the speaker can be a lesbian too. After giving examples of conditions that do not fit, the speaker says: “It also doesn’t fit that I loved a girl, who broke my heart” (Chan 15). The speaker asserts that like the dead things in his life, it does not make any sense that he loves someone who does not love him back. He is stuck in the past and the pain of his heartbreak. The past shapes the future of the speaker too. The first and second person creates a monologue for a beloved: “….Still/there is a corner of my heart I saved for you./You could come back, slip in there, and see if it will fit” (Chan 26-28). The speaker continues to wait for the past to return. He cannot imagine a future without removing this gaping emptiness in his heart. The first and second person views establish the intimacy of past memories. The free verse form of the poem, enjambment, and alliteration add to the conversational and intimate writing style of the poem. Free verse follows the melody of natural speech. Chan speaks in first person with a free verse form: “There are coffin shops in the old parts of Hong Kong,/empty and dark like garages, except for the bulks of smooth” (1-2). The speaker expresses himself in a usual conversation, starting with coffin shops in Hong Kong. The choice of topic and images is interesting, which the free form style emphasizes, because the effect is a storytelling rhythm about the cycle of life. Furthermore, the poem is filled with enjambment. Most of the lines are enjambed, such as lines 3 to 7: …If you ask the little bald/clerk, his bare arms speckled with tiny brown islands, fanning/himself with yellowed newspaper, you could slip into one of them,/so nice and cool, and see if it will fit, with your arms folded/nicely, hands over your heart. (Chan 3-7) The speaker describes the bald clerk who is in charge of the shop and enjambs this description with the experience of testing coffins. The effect is that the clerk is connected to the images and feelings of death, since he is bald and seems to be physically moldering like the “yellowed newspaper” he uses as a fan (Chan 5). The alliteration of “bald” “bare” and “brown” suggests decaying, relating it to someone who is dying. In this ...
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