Saturday, April 6, 2019

Commentary on "That Alternative Universe"

For Day 6 of our National Poetry Month blog tour, commentary from frequent contributor Charles Rammelkamp. —Gerald So

Nancy Scott’s “That Alternative Universe” is full of the pathos and smoldering outrage you will find in her poetry collection, Running Down Broken Cement, which basically covers the same ground, narrative and lyric poems about her life as a social worker, investigating cases of child abuse. In this poem, she describes the usual process of interview and denial on the part of the abuser, the implicit shame on the part of his wife, the enabling bystander. The criminal here is a chemical engineer for a “multi-national company,” from which we infer that he is educated, middle class, a “normal citizen,” we’d like to think. All the more reason for his wife to demand that the case worker interview the husband in the basement and park her car – probably with official insignia on the fender or hood – discretely away from their home, so the neighbors won’t suspect anything.

But that’s just the first part. The man, who has been molesting a four-year old (I was sure it was his daughter, but re-reading the poem I can’t be sure), is eventually caught after a repeat incident and thrown into prison. But the case worker – the narrator – goes to an appointment with her therapist (and who is surprised she needs therapy?) only to learn that he, the doctor, the person who is there to help her, is just as big a creep as the child molester. He tells his patient that for fun he takes the train to Philly, loaded up with his photographic equipment, where he tries to get young women to pose for him for “outdoor glamour shots.” He promises free photos “if they come to his studio, wonders why they never / show up. Not even a call to cancel, he complains.”

So many lines have been crossed already in the narrator’s experience, but this one feels like a real violation. But where’s the actual crime in the revelation of the therapist’s character?

I'm getting a migraine. I'm tired of dealing with creeps,
especially this one in whom I've confided.
When he asks if I'm coming back next week, I say, Yes.
No need to explain why he'll never see me again.

Not even a call to cancel! Wonder why?

The title is curious. Does it refer to the purely “abnormal” that is on display all over this poem? Or is it specific to one of the characters? Alternative to what universe? I love that title; it alone makes you read the poem several more times. —Charles Rammelkamp

1 comment:

Unknown said...

If I hadn't already read and enjoyed Scott's collection, this review would've sent me right for it.