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Opal is sleeping

Opal is sleeping
in an abandoned building
still has electricity praise god
who knows for how long.
She borrows a pan from the office
to boil water on her hotplate
to wash her hair.

I notice her cutting is getting worse
arms crisscrossed like her life
but she keeps me laughing.
"Don't even have a dollar
for a library card so I pretend to read."
She is twenty-four.
"See you tomorrow at the rally,"
she says, slamming my car door.


The poem above was written by Michaelann Bewsee, taken [with permission!] from her blog Michaelann Land in a post titled "Home again, home again." I'm dazzled by it, and do very much believe it shouldn't be analyzed heavily such that it gets stripped of it august beauty and insight. BUT, I'm going to risk an analysis, anyhow.

In its scant few words, "Opal is sleeping" expresses the optimism, absurdity and tragedy of homelessness. Also, the nature of homelessness is one of both improvement and ruin being on the near horizon. [Improvement: There will be a rally tomorrow; hair is getting cut. Ruin: Electricity will be turned off; out of money; her cutting is getting worse.]

Also, the title&first line is interesting. "Opal is sleeping." It can [and does] mean, very simply, that Opal resides "in an abandoned building." But it can also mean, optimistically, that she now has somewhere to sleep, and that she is unafraid and able to sleep. It might also mean, pessimistically, that Opal is asleep in the sense of unaware of the dangers around her. [That is, that she is soon likely to, again, be displaced.]

I like the absurdity of the line "arms crisscrossed like her life". We can't know Opal's whole life from this short poem, but a world of ideas pop into a reader's awareness. Opal, likely, has had many ups and downs. And, likely, tragedy and displacement have been both visited upon her and and come as a result of her actions. Still, forever optimistic -- or, at least, hopeful -- Opal jokes. Yet her joke is laced with a certain sorrow: "Don't even have a dollar for a library card, so I pretend to read."


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