Meanwhile the lilies start to close
as if withdrawing from the fragility of the outer meanings.
Green-house bred, delicate,
each looks like an x-rayed hand, fingers clenched and bending,
flaring whitely where the rays Roentgen discovered by mistake
and named X for the unknown
have entered them in every dimension.
My window holds a row of billboards.
Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths
like flawed computations, and eyes always open, over the echoing
prosperity, each face an admission ticket to something the wind
doesn’t move through, can’t blow down.
A man out walking his dog passes underneath the billboards.
If I could hear his heartbeat . . .
his face not digitalized, the swervings that must be in him,
the secret swayings and severest
wonderment, amazement, under this most vivid distrust,
most vivid caution . . .
I hear him calling to the dog.
Let’s go now boy, it’s time now boy, let’s go.
So small they look, like toys beneath the billboards.
Softness of skin, of hesitance, kingdom of invisible echoes and delays,
raw flesh of lilies, and fog over the city now,
and antimatter, particles, black holes, erased lullabies, forgotten wing—
in this meantime I watch the man walk home
through threshold after threshold of his thoughts opening and unfolding,
admitting and releasing him, grazing his skin
and searing him or calming him, and how I cannot feel them, cannot know.
Black Series, Laurie Sheck, Knopf, New York, 2003
- Laurie Sheck’s poem “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close,” seamlessly layers moments of time so that many seemingly small realities merge into one simultaneous experience. The effect of this layering of experience might be described by Coleridge, who writes in Biographia Literaria that “the property of passion is not to create, but to set in increased activity” (ch.17).
This “increased activity” paradoxically happens in the “meanwhile/meantime” of this poem, the in-between. Sheck’s poem operates similarly, in fact, to Coleridge’s conversation poems; for example, his poem “Frost at Midnight” occurs while he watches his infant sleep, and “This Lime Tree Bower My Prison” takes place while Coleridge imagines friends on a walk. Most of the happenings in Sheck’s poem are quiet, and nearly imperceptible, much like Coleridge’s “secret ministries.” But these happenings are consistent in their presence: the man’s heartbeat the speaker longs to hear, the bones that appear only via an X-ray, or the initiation of the lilies’ closure.
In such quiet interiority, revelation happens. In some ways, this poem parallels the experience of reading lyric poems. The reader parallels the speaker and the speaker parallels the man with the dog. We, as readers, pass “through threshold after threshold of [her] thoughts opening and unfolding, / admitting and releasing [us], grazing [our] skin / and searing [us] or calming [us], and how [we] cannot feel them, cannot know.” No, we cannot know the thoughts of the speaker-poet –but we get close to her loneliness and her desire.
Like all of my favorite poems, this poem addresses compassion. I suffer (as in Coleridge’s sense of the “property of passion”) momentarily alongside (the prefix “com-” meaning with, a parallel position) this poet-speaker. I connect with her as she connects to this stranger, if only in this liminal time that has everything to do with the unexpected opportunity to turn inward.
The poet-speaker takes instruction from these lilies, quietly withdrawing. It seems like an odd impulse toward intimacy with others to turn inward to find it, but that is where connection in this poem occurs—luminous as an X-ray of bones.
- I agree with Ely’s comment about Laurie Sheck engaging us with her feelings of “loneliness and her desire”. The opening line, “Meanwhile the lilies start to close”, allude to an end of some sort; perhaps a closure. Her use of “withdrawing” also hints at this while “fragility of the outer meanings” implies that the situation being dealt with is of a sensitive, emotional nature. I interpret the lilies to be a symbol of the speaker’s heart- “green-house bred, delicate” because it has been sheltered and naive from harsh realities. The “x-rayed hand” gives an image of transparency (emotional) which reminds me of the notion of wearing one’s “heart on [their] sleeve” and ties in to the “green-house” delicateness of it. Her longing and desire are exposed as she looks outside her window and as she follows the man passing. Curiosity and desire are indeed apparent; however, I get the sense that her feelings of “vivid distrust”, represents the speaker’s “caution” with fueling her desires.
There is so much emotion spewing out from the poet’s words and I can’t help but feel compassion and sympathy for the speaker. This is a beautiful poem and as I read it, I felt as if I was the one looking out onto the street.
- In Shecks poem, the emotion of the writer is clearly seen. As mentioned in the above comments, Sheck seems lonley. The reader can understand that there is other things going on around this poem, and this is just a side point. It lets a reader understand the mood of the writer, nomatter what the rest of the story is.
She writes how all she sees is a billboard outside her window, with faces that dont have life in them. When the man is walking his dog beneath the billboards, she appreciates seeing another living being and wants hear his heartbeat. In my understanding, Sheck also appreciates flowers, which may be because it is also a living, breathing plant.
- There is a feeling of loneliness, depression, fear, curiosity and total abandonment that Laurie Sheck flawlessly weaves through each prose. The line, “Green-house bred, delicate,” suggests that something has been grown indoors, pampered, and overprotected. Since flowers normally grow in the wild, it seems like this lily never had the chance to experience the world. When she describes the billboards outside her window, it seems like she’s talking about a major city like New York. From this line I get the feeling of loneliness the most because it is very easy for people to feel like they’re totally deserted in a city with 8 million inhabitants. The man walking his dog alludes to a sense of curiosity. The writer was curious enough to observer him and the dog for a bit of time, but because of some sort of relinquishing fear she didn’t pursue the man and the dog further. There is also an emotion of great distrust that people often feel living in a big city.
- Similar to the comments above, the loneliness that Sheck conveys throughout “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close” is the most striking. As she stares out her windows, she is not surrounded by people but rather by billboards. These billboards embody much of her isolation as she sees faces out of her window every day, but these are not people that are accesible. Instead, she writes, “Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths/like flawed computations, and eyes always open, over the echoing/prosperity, each face an admission ticket to something the wind/doesn’t move through, can’t blow down.” The billboards do not offer the same transparency that the lily and is a stagnant reminder of her emptiness. Even when she does get close to human emotion, it is quickly taken away from her when the man tells his dog to leave. He is far from her and she refers to them as “toys”, small and in the distance.
- Upon first reading Laurie Sheck’s poem, I was assuming that she put her focus on whatever was taking up her attention. She describes the rays of light going through the lilies. She then goes on to describe the billboards that she sees from outside her window. Each one has its own way to lure people’s attention. To Laurie she see doesn’t see the content that they contain, but rather they are part of the bigger scene around her. She finally sees a man calling for his dog to return to his owner. Rather than randomly describing what she sees as it appears in this poem, the real attention is the lilies themselves as the open and blossom during the day and close at night. Judging by the title of the poem Laurie wants to focus the lilies in a minor context but describe what is going around them as the day comes to end. This is evident when the owner of the dog shouts out that “it’s time now.” Even though there is not mention of the lilies after the first verse, they have an important role for the poem but they are not in our present perspective.
- The poem is written using a skew rhyme. There are few enumerations “bred, delicate”, “clenched and bending”, “wonderment, and amazement, under this most vivid distrust”. They create a movie-like images, one shot replaces another one. The picture is black and white. Perhaps, it is inversed like an x-ray. The narrator is carefully moving the camera from one object to another, focusing on certain details on her way. The poem’s lines are different in length, shorter when the image changes and longer when fine points are described. It starts with a distinct subject – a flower. The flower creates an imagery of transparency. Narrator is almost like meditating guiding her thoughts from one subject to another. She stops to analyze an occasional encounter just to pass it by, just like a man who is walking his dog. The next moment her eyes glance up to notice the fog. The poem presents a flowing image without the obvious use of rhyme.
I assume the poem is about a disabled person who is locked by her inability to move, walk, meet others on the street. Her best friends are the flowers and window which is the only way she can communicate with the outside world.
- The imagery in this poem is fantastic. This poem is certainly about the expiration of something beautiful which is insinuated in the title. Lilies in literature are often a symbol of chastity or virtue and of death (a certain duality). In Meanwhile, I think they signify the beginning and the end, the cycle of relationships, of everything. The poem gives a strange feeling. The poem starts with the state of the lily which I assume is the narrator. Words like “close, withdrawing, fragility x-rayed hands, and flaring,” seems to indicate she is deathly ill or incapacitated that she can’t move. Then the poem switches from third-person to first-person. The poet explains she is looking out the window and studying various images and people. There is inference the billboards a number of times. It seems she is making a comparison between the advertisements and the faces on the street: she calls them flawed computations. (Later on she says the dog-owners face is “not digitized”). Then the man with his dog takes center stage. The narrator is extreme interested in the man’s relationship with the dog. I think she is jealous. She wants someone to love her the way this man underneath her window loves his dog. She could hear his heartbeat. However, with this passion she describes there is fear. The author personal experiences seem surface here. Just then, the man calls his dog, “it’s time to go”, ultimately to withdraw this emotion she was connect to from her windown away from her. The story viewpoint seems to merge as she discusses the lily and the man and his dog. Finally, how the story began, it ended. She opened herself to feel something, but it just closed on her, again.
- I agree with most of the comments above about Shecks loneliness and emotional ties in the poem. I think that her constant flipping between subjects, the lilies, man, dog, and billboards are very interesting and cleverly used. As Sheck starts with a mention of the lilies to set the mood and note the reader of her emotional state, she switches to glances of billboards and a man walking a dog. This jumping between the objects she sees enhances the poems meaning and what is going on in the head of Laurie Sheck. It shows that she has quite a handful of things on her mind. To me, it shows that her mind is restless and she is easily distracted from what she is focusing on. This shows her mental state, emotional state, and physical state. In the end Sheck ties together all of what she has seen with the lilies mentioned in the beginning. I especially like poems that do what Sheck has done in this one with mentioning of things other than what the title had presumed and would tie these things together with the main object in the poem.
- Sheck’s poem hones in on a moment in time. The simplicity and slight melancholia of cherishing life’s fragility. The words play out like a well orchestrated song with rhythm, lyric, refrains and bridges that interweave the banality of a man taking his dog for a walk and flowers blowing in the wind. Sheck’s genius is how with the mere use of words she can ‘snapshot’ a scene in life and rewind it in slow motion so that you grasp every single nuance and fully examine the ‘soul’ of it. There’s a certain romanticism in how she carefully notates the brief scene, there’s a voyeuristic charm that bleeds through and creates provocation, headiness and body to the poem–it’s quite sensual. It feels as if we’re witnesses to Scheck’s brief dalliance with nature and its beings by how she takes pride in deciphering the mysteries that lay within.
- After i read this poem, i felt that the poet is talking about life. 1st she start with the lilies closing, then she talks about this billboard, a man with his dog, his coming back home. These are significant to life. For lilies when it closes might mean that it is the end of the day. It feels like, through out the whole poem, the poet actually observes everything from her window, everyday. Then she start to think about it or think about the life. How out side her window the life of that man with the dog starts and then how it’s end. The poet may be lonely and trying to relate the life outside the window with her own life.
- Sheck’s poem is seems to be a description of life happening from different point of views and angles all around her. The transparency of the lilies “like an x-rayed hand, fingers clenched and bending,” describes how she almost can see beneath the layers of petals and see deeper into the lily (person) but can only see the outer “dimension” of it. She then describes in her poem “Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths” not complete bodies of persons but faces “like flawed computations, and eyes always open, over the echoing prosperity”
And as if “each face an admission ticket to something the wind doesn’t move through, can’t blow down.” Her description is almost a superficial one as the lilies there is access to a certain point of a person and “the wind” cannot access anything deeper than the superficial layers of faces she sees. The faces cannot be blown down, as if they uphold some kind of meaning or truth, deeper within. She decries hearing the man call his dog but finishes the poem ” how I cannot feel them, cannot know.” almost to say that see is only a by stander hearing and seeing but never feeling or participating in this world/ dimension.
- The narrator starts the poem describing in details the way she sees the Lilies outside. She perceives them like no one else does. There are billboards by her window and she talks about the frozen smiles, the “happiness” that can be sold through advertisement.
The narrator observes a man walking his dog. She feels compassionate; she can feel him and his emotions. The scene is very quiet and even far she feels so close to the man that she can hear his heartbeat.
He is a perfect stranger in an ordinary moment, but unique and special to her. Then he goes away. The moment she had observing him will stay in her memory. In that brief moment her loneliness was fulfilled. Now that he is gone, her only company is again the billboard and the fake smiles.
- This poem sounded like it could of also been lyrics to a song. The tone seems to be a little sad, while reading it i picture a women just sitting at her window where she can see these big billboards, and day after day noticing the nature and people who walk by. She seems lonley and for some reason this one man who was walking his dog caught her heart and made her happy but then he was gone and she was left alone again. I think this poem has deeper meaning than just the words we read are the page. The lilies closing in the title and first line represent the ending of something, maybe the love of her life left her and the man understand the billboard symbloizes someone who once made her happy but now has left her lonley and sad.
- This poem seems to be a descriptive expression of a moment in time. As the lilies are starting to close, there are all these details that are also concurrently occurring whilst catching the author’s attention. But is that really it? The impression I received from reading this poem was a wind of loneliness in addition to a sense of longing. As she is tendering the details of the lilies, she sees a man who she desires to interact with. Lines such as “If I could hear his heartbeat. . .” and “…and searing him or calming him, and how I cannot feel them, cannot know,” show us her desires and her longing for the close presence of this man. Or is it really just the man she is longing for? Perhaps it is people in general. I think one can also view it in a different direction, where the author is expression her pain of isolation. The distance apart from this man and the dog along with the inclusion of tall billboards in the poem may symbolize the isolation that separates her from the “outside”, and how she is longing for company.
- The structure of this poem is a very interesting one. Every line has different size: some of them are longer, and some-shorter. The absence of the rhyme makes this poem a little bit hard to read. Each line separates from another by some space. The author’s use of long structured sentences shows that she tries to put ‘bouquet’of thoughts in one sentence.
- Sheck’s poem expresses signs of loneliness shown in the line, “My window holds of row of billboards. Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths. Additionally, the lily symbolizes vulnerability, and the freedom to be ourselves, as well as allowing others to be as they are too. The lily is a symbolic flower of health and provision. In a reading, the lily can signal growth, development, and a quality of innocence in our lives. The part when she writes that, “A man out walking his dog passes underneath the billboards. If I could hear his heartbeat” shows that she is curious and how she has been observing the man for a while.
- This poem brings to light the realization that time is constatntly moving on. While it is definite that the Lilies will open and close with that movement, other daily occurences ar not as predictable. “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close” teaches us that we need to pay attention to all that is going on around us, both big and small.
- Sheck is able to convey the feeling of loneliness to the audience powerfully through this poem.”Meanwhile the lilies start to close as if withdrawing from the fragility of the outer meanings” Sheck uses very descrpitive and colorful language to give the readers an emotional connection. The poem relates to others which is a usefull technique that engages that audience. She describes that way the man is feeling in such detail and what kind of facial expressions he has, also gives the readers a personal experience almost similar to the way a memoir is written.
- Laurie Sheck’s poem “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close,” expresses the speaker’s desire for an intimate knowledge of others. Despite the speaker’s inward regression as the “lilies start to close…withdrawing” she craves a deep, intimate understanding of mankind, to know them in “every dimension”, beyond the “fragility of the outer meanings.”
A recurring motif in Laurie Sheck’s work is transparency. The speaker longs for a profound connection with the world. Her desire to understand the inner souls of others is symbolized by the X-ray, which illuminates the unknown. The X (which represents the unknown) becomes exposed under its ray. The billboard is a façade, which only shows the “outer meanings” she expressed disdain for in the first stanza. The “borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths, like flawed computations, and eyes always open” are a representation of life, but lacks the depth of human authenticity she yearns for.
The narrator expresses her curiosity and regret at being unable to feel the innermost emotions of others. In the last stanza, she watches the man walk home, and wonders about his “thoughts opening and unfolding”, expressing her sadness that she “cannot feel them, cannot know.”
Comment by Susie Kim — May 15, 2012 @ 4:02 pm