“ego” (more on the lowercase in a moment) draws on insecurities I felt in my relationship at the time that I wrote this poem. More specifically, it addresses themes of jealousy and control in relationships. While we were together, my partner was in love/infatuated/in limerence with a (for all intents and purposes) straight man. It was something that put a strain on our relationship and troubled me (and him) for a very long time.
About two months before we decided to separate (we are still very good friends, by the way) I wrote this poem. As I usually do, when I’m going through writer’s block, I used a prompt. I can’t remember if I found the prompt online or used a random word generator—at any rate, these are the words I got: salmon, aluminum, concord, can, cage, ballast, and pry. It’s interesting to see how well they all worked together.
In the first line, the speaker says, “I decide to keep you.” Immediately, we see the speaker exercise his control; he is the one who “decides.” He goes on: “in a can, to have you / all sealed up on my shelf / like pink salmon—.” The speaker wants this person for himself and goes so far as to objectify him with the salmon analogy to prove his point.
In the next few lines, the speaker justifies this possessiveness: “your soft meat swimming / in itself, safe from any bears.” The speaker calls the subject (who we can presume is his partner) “soft,” and for this reason is protecting him from outside threats (“bears”). While this could be interpreted as purely an act of love, the next lines reveal another motivation: “and all / those other men out there, / cozy in your little aluminum cage.” The speaker doesn’t care about the threat of bears; he is motivated by jealousy. “[All] those other men out there” are the real threat; and not necessarily a threat to the subject, but to the speaker and his possibly small ego (hence the lowercased “ego” title). The speaker acknowledges his possessiveness by calling the “can” a “cage.” The subject is likened to a prisoner, but the speaker insists the partner is “cozy” and compliant with this situation.
Here is where the poem shifts, and we get more information about the speaker’s psyche: “cozy in your little aluminum cage, / you this little thing / I ballast myself against.” He both objectifies the subject and acknowledges his role in keeping him balanced. He realizes/remembers how much he relies on him. Still objectifying, the speaker addresses his partner’s (or maybe his own) perceived shortcomings: “this thing / too small to pour myself into fully.” He wants to give himself over to the subject entirely, but there just isn’t enough room for him.
Recognizing his faults, the speaker attempts to release his partner from the prison he’s made for him: “cutting my fingers trying to pry you / open again—the sweet / concord of my hand bones breaking, the love-sound / of my tearing flesh.” Here, in the last third of the poem, the speaker romanticizes his actions. It’s as if he were valiantly sacrificing so much of his well-being to set his partner free, even though it’s his jealousy that leads him to confine the partner in the first place. He’s cutting his fingers; his bones breaking make a “sweet” harmony; he even describes the sound of his flesh tearing as a “love-sound.” From the imprisonment to the release attempt, the speaker believes his actions come from a place of love.
For the audio version, click here or below.
I decide to keep you
in a can, to have you
all sealed up on my shelf
like pink salmon—
your soft meat swimming
in itself, safe
from any bears and all
those other men out there,
cozy in your little aluminum cage,
you this little thing
I ballast myself against, this thing
too small to pour myself into fully,
cutting my fingers
trying to pry you
open again—the sweet
concord of my hand bones
breaking, the love-sound
of my tearing flesh
Mathew Pereda’s hobbies do not include fishing, hunting, bird watching, pearl diving, fortune telling, matter splitting, coin collecting, or jigsaw puzzles (he’ll never like those) though he does love the word “jigsaw.” He loves words, in general. Read more of Mathew’s words at Outrageous Fortune, Microfiction Monday, Sweet, and MockingHeart Review.
Featured Image: Jar (Sketchless Phorography)