Poetry Daiy: Monkey Mind by Steve Orlen

When I was a child I had what is called an inner life.
For example, I looked at that girl over there
In the second aisle of seats and wondered what it was like
To have buck teeth pushing out your upper lip
And how it felt to have those little florets the breasts
Swelling her pajama top before she went to sleep.
Walking home, I asked her both questions
And instead of answering she told her mother
Who told the teacher who told my father.
After all these years, I can almost feel his hand
Rising in the room, the moment in the air of his decision,
Then coming down so hard it took my breath away,
And up again in that small arc
To smack his open palm against my butt.
I’m a slow learner
And still sometimes I’m sitting here wondering what my father
Is thinking, blind and frail and eighty-five,
Plunged down into his easy chair half the night
Listening to Bach cantatas. I know he knows
At every minute of every hour that he’s going to die
Because he told my mother and my mother told me.
I didn’t cry or cry out or say I’m sorry.
I lay across his lap and wondered what
He could be thinking to hit a kid like that.

I think this is an interesting poem. The title seems to me to be doing alot of work; I think of a monkey jumping all over the place, and a child on the monkey bars. This child/speaker certainly had a curious mind, hopping from one idea to the next. Orlen also writes that “I know he knows At every minute of every hour that’s he’s going to die” which makes me think that the child’s curious mind didn’t know that it should stop–it ceased only because it was hit.

4 Responses to “Poetry Daiy: Monkey Mind by Steve Orlen”

  1. Ryan says:

    Do other people’s minds not work like this?

  2. Jason says:

    The “monkey mind” is actually a concept of Buddhist philosophy. It’s viewed as a negative force, that the mind can never calm itself, that it is always in motion like a hyperactive ape, even when there is no work for it to do.

    This poem works with it a little differently, though… in relating it to traumatic emotions. The monkey mind hardly needs such things to jump about, so when such tragedy exists, it makes it look like it’s emotional trauma that causes the crazy logical jumps rather than the simple inability of the mind to stay quiet *without* any good reason for it.

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  4. Criss says:

    I really like this poem as well. The “monkeymind” stated in the title of the poem is an Eastern saying for “How our mortal minds seem to wander and generally get us into trouble because we cannot control our thoughts. ”

    Steve Orlen used to say “Have your poems move, say another thing.” He also used to say “Be vulnerable, honest, be kind, and say the toughest thing.”

    This poem, similar to many of his fine poems, meets his criteria.