A weekly poem, accessibly annotated.
This week I’ve chosen “Soybeans” by Frank Stanford.
The book is full of my father’s eyelashes
He treats the pages rough
like a woman
He pinches the daylights out of them
up between his heel and sole
quick as spit on his thumb
You can still smell
Four Roses bourbon in the morning
through the onionskin
He will not weep He knows
most folks don’t keep their word
Anyway the rain
came through like a hitchhiker
Usually I don’t like short-lined poems. The clipped phrases feel like they’re sitting on little unearned pedestals, like small-plate servings in the movie version of a pretentious restaurant.
Here, though, the short lines are of a piece with the overall tone of the poem: there is a rural feeling, a folksiness, like someone is telling a story slowly.
The first line is plainspoken and packed with suggestion; with incredible efficiency, the reader is thrown into a flurry of feelings. The next two lines make me uncomfortable, but the simile is accurate to the character in question. The poem is getting more pungent.
THE ENDING, though, you guys.
“Anyway the rain
came through like a hitchhiker”
Every time I read that, my affection grows. The raincloud, the shambolic wanderer: they stick around just long enough to make you happy when they’re gone. The narrator has shared weighty things with us, violence and alcoholism. Finally he reaches the real story—“Anyway…”—and the real story is the rain. Of course, the emotion of the preceding lines invests the end with extra oomph—a little like a darkening cloud, almost ready to open up. The poem is over; Frank Stanford drops the mic.
It’s worth noting, I guess, that Stanford is something of a cult hero. He died tragically at 29 in 1978, and despite his admirers, he’s never been fully accepted into the mainstream canon. Vote Frank Stanford, you guys.
The title of the poem? Other than enhancing the aura of rural-ness, IT IS A MYSTERY.
Addressing “treats the pages rough / like a woman” a little further, with the disclaimer that I am a complete amateur: I fear it may be a cop-out to say, hey, that character is abusive, so it’s fine/good for the writer to describe him as such—i.e., rough, which is the way he treats women. As written, the simile can be read more expansively than that: rough, which is the way women are treated. Male artists sometimes use violence against women as a prop for ostensibly lamentable “realism,” when the real point is a patina of (masculine!) “authenticity.” If that makes sense. I don’t know how it affects things that the poem was written decades ago.
Poem republished in accordance with principles of fair use.
Painting of four roses, by Aracil German, ganked from here.
You, Too, Dislike It appears every Thursday.