On the Topic of Unessay #2

“They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.”

Tagore, “On the Seashore”

On the Topic of Innocence

Everything was free
Our touch created
Spaceships, Unicorns, Adventure
We knew not the hardships
Filled with
Racism, Poverty, Hate

Must it be this way?
Where our innocence is
Ripped away, crushed, and stolen
Because of a broken game
In which we’re forced to play?

Perhaps, but perhaps not.
If we, as adults, created
Activism, Poems, Awareness,
Would these children grow
Filled with
Acceptance, Prosperity, and Love?

“Soon the fish will learn to walk. Then humans will come ashore and paint dreams on the dying stone.”

Harjo, “Invisible Fish”

On the Topic of Existence

What does it mean
To exist?
We fade to dust,
And that dust
Creates new worlds
In which you and I
Are long forgotten.

But is that truly
A bad thing?

“Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.”

Harjo, “Praise the Rain”

On the Topic of Life

Running, playing, screaming, laughing, fighting,
Crying, punching, clawing hoping, and loving
Our way through life.
What does it mean
To “praise” our lives?
Life is created
Through random equations
And anomalies.
We live through life
Dictated by those same anomalies.
So I ask of you,
Are we praising our lives
Or are we accepting our fates?

“In the moonlight, tobacco plant had silver
Moon buttons all up her back.
We’re getting dressed to go plant new songs with words.
Our sun is dimming faster.”

Harjo, “Tobacco Origin Story, Because Tobacco Was a Gift Intended to Walk Alongside Us to the Stars”

On the Topic of Loss and Capitalism

Our sun dims,
As stories are lost
And traditions are slashed.
Something so sacred to us
Becomes a thing of corporate greed.

The stones and gems of childhood
Are burdened with immoral deeds.
We once shoved our hands
Through piles of pretty stones
In wooden carts in the middle
Of a corporate pit
Which we were so unaware of.

How can I see those same gems
And not think of
The child slaves
The injustice
The crushing weight of
Capitalism and loss?

“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;”

Tagore, “Gitanjali 35”

On the Topic of Purpose

Get up. No really, wake up.
Drag yourself out of bed.
Throw on your clothes and
go to the coffee maker.
Forget what you’re there for.
Remember while making breakfast.
Start your coffee.
What assignment should you work on first?
Time constrained ones perhaps?
No, your anxiety is too high.
So you’ll do something different.
And now you’re drawing
And you need to get back to your school work
Just do the schoolwork. You have to.
And again.
Is this really the right path for you?
Is this really your purpose?
What’s the point if we’re just
Doing the same things again
And again
And again?

“First Gardener: Only if half of the fruit you worship is mine.
Second Gardener: You didn’t have to ask: we have two bodies but our lives are one. [she leans on her friend and plucks a blossom] Ah! Though the blossom’s not full-blown, the broken stalk alone has a wonderful scent.”

Kālidāsa, The Recognition of Śakuntalā: a Play in Seven Acts, pg. 73

On the Topic of Love

What is love except for
The cherishing of little things
The sweet smell of a lover,
No matter how whole they appear to be?

What is love except for
The undeniable friendship
Or the eyes full of longing
That blossom before-hand?

What is love except for
The giggling noise that
Escapes your soft, red lips
Like blossoms in the wind?

Love is a jasmine tree
That blossoms with care
And reaches skyward,
Planting it’s roots firmly
In the rich, watered soil.

On the Topic of Explanations

I felt as though focusing my “unessay” on poetry went along with most of what we were reading. I wanted to take lines from different texts we read and have them be openers to the poems – something to get the reader thinking about what they were going to read. Then I wrote a poem related to a topic I picked out of the text that also reflects how I feel about the text for the most part. I titled them all “On the Topic of…” because I felt as though the poems should revolve around a topic but, similar to our classroom conversations, didn’t need to stick to it like super glue.

“On the Topic of Innocence” talks about how innocence is ripped away from us, creating a world full of hardship. We have such carefree lives and yet as we age we’re thrusted into an uncaring, unforgiving world that makes us question what we should do. I entertain the thought of instead filling children with love instead of taking away their innocence like that.

“On the Topic of Existence” is alluding to our conversation from class about the poem. “Paint dreams on dying stone” insinuates that everything we do may just disappear one day. It was all set to fade away from the beginning. I wanted to encapsulate this feeling in the poem. I also wanted to question if it was a bad thing because that was specifically brought up in class. Some people may find fear in this, like myself, but I know that others find immense comfort in things like these. Occasionally I do as well.

So I wanted “On the Topic of Life” to encapsulate how the original poem felt but with a more questioning nature. I’m basically questioning the poem in poem form (poemception anyone). I guess what I was getting at with asking “are we praising our lives or are we accepting our fates?” was that it sounds like the poem is asking you, the reader, to accept that we have sadness in the world and be okay with it. I guess that’s a good notion, but what if I don’t want that? What if I don’t want to “praise sad?” In some ways it feels like more of a punch in the gut rather than a comfort for me. I don’t know if others feel the same, but that’s where I was going with it.

So, originally, the poem “Tobacco Origin Story, Because Tobacco Was a Gift Intended to Walk Alongside Us to the Stars” by Joy Harjo hit me really hard. For some reason the incorporation of “Miss Mary Mack” and how there’s a loss of innocence spoke to me on a personal level. I have a huge problem with capitalism personally but I’ve also seen how it ruins cultures. Take sage for example. It’s a very important plan in Native American rituals but we’ve cultivated it to hell and back and we’re now running out of sage. My poem “On the Topic of Loss and Capitalism” talks about when I was young how I used to collect and buy tons of little gems and rocks. I had no idea where they were coming from or what the story was behind them. I just liked the energy the rocks created for me. When I got older, however, I found out that most rocks are being harvested from places low on minerals or places that are being completely mined out by overworked child slaves. Capitalism may have introduced me to these shiny stones but it’s also ruined lives. We all had an innocence of some sort but it was ripped away, slowly or quickly in one way or another.

“On the Topic of Purpose” is supposed to create that sense of boredom and repetition that the original poem mentions when they talk about “dead habit.” I think all of us have gone through this before – where we question if this is the right path. “Did I make the right choices?” “Am I in the right major?” “Is this what I really want for myself?” Sure, there’s something of comfort with repetition and habit, but when we start to do so many “useless” things without thinking, does it not take away most of the meaning? Sometimes I feel as though my schoolwork doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. There’s a lingering question of “when will I use this, ever?”

“On the Topic of Love” is a bit different from the rest of the poems I did. For starters, it’s talking about Kālidāsa’s The Recognition of Śakuntalā rather than a poem we read. I also didn’t quote anything that has to do with the main characters, but rather a quote that really encompasses what the play is about: love. I wanted the poem to really get down to what love can be – what healthy love can be. I referenced blossoms, jasmine trees, the sweet smell, and longing because these are all things that pop up throughout the play. I wanted to take the metaphors and imagery of Śakuntalā and create a poem that actually had what love should be without the creepy undertones that the king exudes when he chases after Śakuntalā . For good measure, I used the term “watered soil” because I thought it had a bit of a sexual undertone (which Śakuntalā has a lot of). I’m aware not all romantic love has to be sexual, but I wanted to throw it in there because it could be sexual depending on who reads it.

Literature is in the eye of the beholder, which is a great segway into answering the question of “Why does literature matter?” In terms of all these poems and stories, I feel as though we see ourselves in them in one way or another. I saw myself in bits and pieces of each thing we read. I wanted to take the themes and put part of myself onto the paper. I wanted to be part of that enormous chasm of literature that we can all relate to. My project is answering this question by showing how each of the poems mattered to me. It shows us that texts matter in vastly different ways. Even if someone were to read one of my poems, maybe they resonate with it in a completely different way than intended and that’s okay.

Works Cited

Harjo, Joy. “Invisible Fish.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

Harjo, Joy. “Praise the Rain by Joy Harjo.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

Harjo, Joy. “Tobacco Origin Story, Because Tobacco Was a Gift…” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/143932/tobacco-origin-story-because-tobacco-was-a-gift-intended-to-walk-alongside-us-to-the-stars.

Kālidāsa , and W. J. Johnson. The Recognition of Śakuntalā: a Play in Seven Acts. Oxford University Press, 2008.

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4 thoughts on “On the Topic of Unessay #2

  1. For a secon project this was great to read, and something I would never think of. Connecting poetry with parts of the reading and the different theme points was super creative, and your explanation explains it well! I also like how each poem focused on different aspects in the reading such as love, purpose, capitalism, innocence, etc.

  2. On the Topic of Purpose hits hard with depression, especially moving into the winterim – a lack of deadlines really intensifies this feeling you describe, leaving depression to take over and linger. “Resonation”, as you so aptly describe it, or “Death of the Author”, as I playfully hate it, is a big part of what gives literature (including your wonderful poems) its cultural impact. Fantastic work, as always – see you after quarantine!

  3. This project, your poetry, was really beautifully done. You drew a great connection from the source material to your original writing. I think Abby Goode or Meg Petersen told me that the more specific you make a piece, the more generally it will apply to your audience, and I think your work is a good example of that. You’ve chosen a couple broad topics to discuss, but your commentary is specific and relatable. On The Topic of Purpose hit different for me because that was my exact inner monologue last semester and this semester, as I’m doing makeup work. This was really well done and very inspiring.

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