Thursday, May 17, 2012

About "I Never Knew"

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In “I Never Knew” by Mary O. R. Paddock, the voice of the speaker is not only a wife and mother, but the voice of a woman that uses the bitter cold imagery of winter to capture her pain and anger. She speaks not of warmth but of her hatred of the cold. She sees the coldness of winter as a reflection of the coldness in her relationship with her husband, leaving her bitter and lonely.

When I read this poem, I imagine a woman that is very restless and unhappy with her life. She does not describe her life as appealing and desirable. She implies that her relationship with her husband is no longer warm and loving. There is coldness between them. She reveals this coldness when she says “[the cold] crept through / the blanketed depths of our bed.” By this, I believe she is expressing that there is no sexual desire or intimacy in their relationship. She is lonely and lies awake at night “sleepless,” thinking about the void in her life. She is restless in her life as a wife and mother and yearns for something more. When she says “My breath dusted the air”, perhaps she has tried to talk to her husband about how unhappy she is, and the loneliness she is feeling but he is not listening or he doesn’t hear her. Perhaps in the coldness between them, they have stopped communicating with each other altogether. The foundation on which they have built their life together is fading more and more as each night passes.

When she says, “so many times I woke up / already tired of morning” she reveals that she no longer looks forward to getting up in the morning. She does not look forward to a new day. She has grown tired of her routine as wife and mother. When she says, “How I dreaded the trek into the kitchen to pour coffee, / spilling creamer off the edge of the spoon in my shivered hurry,” I believe she wanted to avoid her husband’s cold presence in the kitchen. When she writes “Bound by thermal socks and long johns / I slide-stepped down the stairs,” she not only reveals her feelings of confinement and loneliness, but I also sense that she no longer considers herself attractive. Maybe this stems from her cold relationship with her husband. She can’t wait to leave the bedroom and go downstairs. One can almost miss the irony of her going downstairs when she says, “to divine heat from a few pieces of wet cedar.” It is not warmth that she is dancing down the stairs to but she would rather be downstairs than in the much colder bedroom with her husband.

The speaker reveals the real bitterness of the loneliness in her life of coldness when she asks “Have I ever told you how I felt about shredding my Christmas tea towels?” I believe these “Christmas tea towels” were once special to her. They symbolize a time of warmth, as well as, socialization. Perhaps because of the coldness between them, they no longer socialize with friends. She says she shredded the tea towels “to fill the gaps in the windows.” Somehow, this leaves me with a feeling that she may have given up something in her past such as a career or dream for him but more importantly, she is bitter that they do not interact with one another; there is no companionship. She says, “Those mistletoe prints stopped drafts from chafing our children’s faces.” The children do not see the coldness between them. She provides a warm environment for them and pretends as though everything is okay so that they won’t know. When she says “I don’t think so,” she does so coldly. In the coldness between them, she never told him how she felt.

I can only speculate about why there was coldness between this woman and her husband. When I first read this poem, I noticed the voice is in past tense, which gave me a sense of loss or separation. I kept looking for a hint of abuse, violence, even death, to no avail. I was looking for something that might explain to me the reason their relationship was so cold. I was surprised in the end when she says, “How close I came to leaving you.” I can’t help but ask why didn’t she leave? Then I realized that she stays because she loves her husband and is only bitter of the coldness between them.

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