Tropes in Literary Analysis

My composition teacher wanted me to
move beyond my ideas
my ideas were good,
he assured me, but perhaps now
now that my ideas were solid,
were clear and at least somewhat
engaging, now I could move on

to tropes. Perhaps I wanted to embrace more craft
in my writing? Perhaps I could
take a thorough look at the
“on the one hand” and the “on the other hand,” the obvious
parallel constructions
the antithetical contrasts
the appositive modifiers, perhaps I could
spice these up, to use a cliched trope, he winked at me,

perhaps I wanted to mix in something beyond
these schemes, these compositional tools, add some new
unconventional ingredient to create a wild
unexpected new souffle of figurative language.

I nodded. Perhaps too much
or too fast. He was concerned
I couldn’t picture it. I was concerned
I couldn’t picture it, though I was more concerned
I couldn’t even say what it was I was trying to picture.

“A trope, a figure of speech like a metaphor,
it pulls your writing together, adds a sense of
voice,” he said, reassuringly.

My voice isn’t my voice? What is a voice in one dimension,
in ink and paper? He continued, “You can’t be cliched
but also don’t stretch your trope, set it up wisely, elegantly
allow it to bathe your whole compositional arc in the
imaginative light shed by an original, unexpected
comparison. But don’t use an extended metaphor, obviously,”

he said, smiling again, “They get so tired.” So, I tried

to imagine a figure of speech that would somehow encompass my
paper, subtly. But, it was a hippopotamus as big as the entire
watering hole. It was an enormous poofy chicken
every egg disappearing under its
voluminous fluff. It was a glacier –
slow moving, yes, but monolithic and
intractable.

I stared at my essay in my kitchen later, but I was bereft
of hope just as the cupboard was bereft of
clean dishes and the refrigerator was bereft of all
the best foods for procrastinating. I could see Graham Swift’s
fens, the watery marshland of his novel continuing for miles
and in my paper there it lived,

flat in the worst way, flat like the water and sky
were indistinguishable, like your life was indistinguishable
in this featureless landscape. Sure there was beauty
but you had to get up real close, had to learn to enjoy the
surprise of a tiny beetle, a chance migrating bird,
had to look at the small things because there was nothing
big, nothing remarkable to fix your eyes on in this
rolling land of muted sunlight, cloud, water and only the idea
of solid land.

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The people of my youth

populate my imagination
disproportionately
and the reason
is in the chemistry
the electricity
of my brain, the first connections

vital, living well beyond usefulness
the fine details wired in
dendrites and dendrites
ramifying through the cloud of pulses—
the boys, the girls, their loves, my loves
the embarrassment, the exhilaration
of first times

the fires from
long ago burn low and steady
and against this
memories from five years
ten years ago flame and fade quickly
details, dates wrong
while the first comes back with little stoking—
the smell of orange blossoms in the spring
and the catch of a song in my chest at seventeen—

so that life is skewed
in this early direction
so that youth is inescapable
looped into memory
woven into the countless connections
the electrolyte exchanges of consciousness
always calling to me but unanswerable
a message I cannot entirely decode but
I cannot forget.

I try hard to forget this body

to see it
only as a shifting mass
of cells, to feel
the impermanence of existence, to truly
believe this.
The opposite of

this fierce grip is not death
but release. How can I

trust this? Pinned here
by name, by body, by sex?
Am I served, clinging to my flesh
and the idea of my flesh?
What does the self do

but offer a distraction
from the heavy certainty of death
for one short moment?
The next moment

always comes and with it,
death is back, smiling its crooked smile,
pushing open a door
that is never closed.

Trade Offs

I.
A bird’s keeled chest allows for flight
layers and layers of muscle overlaid

flexing in like solid heart
its thick bloody meat

and each wing extends from this mass
this dense body of flesh
out into the finest

feathers, the bones
hollowed and just above the beating heart
the keeled body heaves and pulls its mass easily

but there is a cost, of course, it is not truly easy
what must you trade to rise into the air
to run and beat your wings or to set off
from a standstill?
what do you give up for that life? what terrestrial pleasures
are sacrificed to the air?

a hand tangled in a lover’s curls?
one cheek against sternum, almost directly on bone
feeling the pulse of life below?

II.
I remember the feel of night
against my lips, my neck
the freedom of riding through the dark

no one to belong to, no one waiting for me
always half in love or hoping to be

instead of the bittersweet loneliness of youth
now I feel the soft arms
of a baby flung over me,

nestled in
close but captured.

I think of death every day

whether this is helpful
or not
depends on who you talk to

perhaps it helps me appreciate life
perhaps it presses me to face my fear
perhaps it humbles and quiets my ego
or, perhaps I simply

walk around terrified, catching
glimpses of that smothering annihilation
around corners

lining the yellow face of sunlit objects,
a dark, disturbing gilding.