Analysis of Beans

Analysis of Beans

Beans

September came like winter's
ailing child but
left us
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
doctored moment lied. You lie with
orphans' parents, long
reviled.

As close as coppers, yellow beans still
line Mapocho's banks. It
leads them to the sea;
entwined on rocks and saplings, each
new vine recalls that
dawn in 1973 when
every choking, bastard weed grew wild.

_____ Written in November, 2006, D.P. Kristalo's "Beans" has been heralded as one of the finest poems of our time in three genres:

Beans as an acrostic:

_____ The first letter in each line spells out the name "Salvador Allende", the Chilean President killed in a coup d'état by General Augusto Pinochet's U.S.-backed junta on September 11th, 1973.

Beans as a curgina:

_____ "Beans" is a curgina, like the bacchic (de-DUM-DUM) monometer of "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, but more elaborate. That is, it may look like free verse but it is, in fact, a rhyming metrical poem: iambic pentameter with a ABABA-CDCDA rhyme scheme. To wit:
September came like winter's ailing child
but left us viewing Valparaiso's pride.
Your face was always saddest when you smiled.
You smiled as every doctored moment lied.
You lie with orphans' parents, long reviled.

As close as coppers, yellow beans still line
Mapocho's banks. It leads them to the sea;
entwined on rocks and saplings, each new vine
recalls that dawn in 1973
when every choking, bastard weed grew wild.

_____ Among the poem's many technical merits is the skillful use of anadiplosis, where a word or form of a word from the end of one sentence is repeated at or near the beginning of the next sentence. Thus, we see:

Your face was always saddest when you smiled.
You smiled as every doctored moment lied.
You lie with orphans' parents, long reviled.

_____ The aural pleasures begin early with those "m's" ending the first two stressed syllables: "September came..." A lulling consonance of "l" sounds runs throughout stanza #1. These are often paired with long "i" phonemes, like the words "isle" and "lie". These "palindromics" are like sonic bookends, "containing" the text between them like the beginning and end of a paragraph or stanza. N.B.: A palindrome involves letters reading the same backwards and forwards, like "racecar". A palindromic involves sounds enunciated the same backwards and forwards, as in "clucks" ("kluks") and "skulk".

_____ Note, too, that all of the disyllabic words (i.e. "winter's", "ailing", "viewing", "always", "saddest", "doctored", "moment", "orphans'", "parents") in the first stanza are trochaic until the last one, "reviled". This, along with the form, does far more than break up the metronome; it is a textbook example of endline diaeresis lending a sense of finality.

_____ Stanza #2 starts out with the strong "c" alliteration and two pairs of "oh" sounds, one stressed and one unstressed: "close...yellow" then "Mapocho's". Later, we have two more assonant pairs, this time "aw" sounds: "on rocks" before "recalls...dawn". These vary the pace of the recital, slowing it down before the poet spits out those harsh sounds and sentiments in the final line.

_____ Curginas tend to use few substitutions. "Beans" is no exception. Nevertheless, the transition in Stanza #2 from the botanical metaphor back to harsh reality is trumpeted by two spondees (DUM-DUM) forming adjacent first epitrites (de-DUM-DUM-DUM de-DUM-DUM-DUM): "as each new vine recalls that dawn".

Beans as a political poem:

_____ To appreciate the subtlety of "Beans" one might compare it to efforts like Carolyn Forché's "The Colonel". "Beans" begins by establishing the setting: we are dealing with troubled times south of the equator, where September is springtime. Immediately thereafter the author strikes on the ambiguity that characterizes "Beans": Valparaiso is the birthplace of both the coup and its principle victim, Dr. Allende. As such, it is a town revered by supporters of both Pinochet and Allende. Not surprisingly, both factions read "Beans" and believe it to be sympathetic to their politics.

_____ The next sentence ranks among the most poignant we'll see in modern poetry:

Your face was always saddest when you smiled.

_____ Did Dr. Allende's pie-faced smile really make him look sadder or are we observers projecting our own sympathy, knowing what fate awaited him?


_____ Next we see "doctored moments", a reference to Allende's original profession as a physician. This play on words captures the duplicity of those around him.

_____ How can anyone refer to the other victims of the slaughter that followed the overthrow without losing the poem's core ambivalence? By sticking to the fact that many of these people left behind families. Some became "ophans' parents".

_____ In the second stanza the poem seems to meander slightly, like beans along the Mapocho river that runs through Chile's capital city of Santiago. Why beans? Perhaps the name of the country is a clue. Why yellow beans? This may be an allusion to the line "You live in a country of cowards and corpses," from "Leaving Santiago".

_____ In the first line of Stanza #2 we see a reference to "coppers", as in pennies, representing the role that economic considerations played. "Coppers" could also allude to the police co-operating with military plotters. In any case, it almost certainly refers to Allende's nationalization of the copper mines, which was one of the reasons for the U.S. backing the coup.

_____ The poem ends on a bitter note as, in spoken versions, DPK repeats "when every choking bastard weed" three times for effect. This could be a reference to the fact that Pinochet was the third general approached by American authorities to lead the coup. The previous two refused and were killed. Who are the "choking bastard weeds"? A supporter of democracy and Allende will assume that it is a reference to the military that ran wild, murdering thousands of innocent civilians and setting up an illegitimate government. Coup supporters may see the phrase as a reference to the Allende government choking the economy. The ailing children would point to the effects of the blockade, especially as it restricted the importation on baby's milk. Other double entendres refer to propaganda, the nationalization of copper mines and the cooperation of the police with the coup.

_____ The reason for this elegy's ambivalence will be apparent to anyone who considers the dangerous polemics of Chilean politics after Allende's fall. This might also explain the choppy ("tortuous", said one commenter) linebreaks, especially in Stanza #1; the survival-oriented speaker pauses to carefully consider the choice of words and expressions at the beginning of each subsequent line.

Beans as a video:

_____ To see the video, click here. Unfortunately, this video--in sharp contrast to DPK's own--is overtly partisan, losing the "impassioned ambivalence" of the original.

_____ In the original video we see a dais facing a memorial wreath and photos of Dr. Allende. A tiny old woman appears behind the podium. Without introduction, the lady begins speaking in a surprisingly strong, fervant voice. It is said that "bad actors pause for breath, good actors pause for thought". As mentioned earlier, at the end of each line in Stanza #1 the speaker stops, looking for the right euphemism to begin the next line. Winter's ailing child wasn't butchered. It merely "left us". The victims weren't political entities but "orphans' parents". In Stanza #2, the eulogist repeats the condemnation "when every choking bastard weed" three times, once looking to her right at the junta members, once looking to her left at the disgruntled civilians, and, finally, while looking directly into the camera. Is she wishing a plague on all three houses: the right, the left and the bystanders?

_____ The video appeared online briefly before being removed for reasons unknown. All D.P. Kristalo poems have been placed by their author into the public domain. The author refuses contact or comment.

Conclusion

_____ Unlike most political poems, "Beans" isn't overwhelmed by its subject, nor does the poem trivialize it with bathos. We speak of "Beans" as a political poem. Given the circumstances, it could hardly be an unpolitical one. Nevertheless, one got the feeling from the video, at least, that it is in fact a very anti-political poem.

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