Dora Malech’s “Party Games,” first published by The Hopkins Review in the Fall of 2014, focuses on a girl and a pinata. Malech, born in New Haven, now works as the Assistant Professor of Poetry at Johns Hopkins University. Malech has written many poems about the ideas of beauty and truth, however, in this poem Malech describes something a bit darker: human nature.
This poem is about the speaker watching a girl hit a pinata at a party. In an interview with Malech, she says that she wanted the poem to be “read as a child’s game” even though the poem was originally about women at a baby shower. The poem does indeed sound like a child’s game, the pinata is a donkey, and when the girl misses at first she is “grinning too, and laughing” as a child would. I think this is very interesting because I was definitely fooled at first as well. The poem also seems to be about children because of the structure of the poem, it is short and is put into sentence long paragraphs like a children’s poem. Also, the structure allows you to think like the party goer watching a short, small party game. Although this poem seems to be about human children, it reminds me of a different young-in, my puppy Daisy.
Daisy is the younger of two dogs in my family to Charlie, the old drill sergeant. This nickname came about because as much as he is a tough dog, Daisy is a little fluffernutter and it seems like she is the new recruit in Charlie’s house-protecting army. Daisy started out a meek little thing but after seeing Charlie chase away deer, raccoons, and weird gopher-chipmunk hybrids, something seemed to click inside her and she has “fought” beside him ever since just as fiercely as him. How can a purse puppy turn into a fierce predator?
I believe that the answer lies in “Party Games”.
In the beginning of the poem, the girl swings, misses, and hits the tree that the pinata is hung on and “split [her] stick in half to jagged dagger in her fists”. The girls tries again and ultimately succeeds after “she brandishes her splinter”. The speaker describes the girl’s stick as more than that, she treats it as it is a weapon. The girl has turned into a warrior, “planting her feet in a samurai stance”. After reading this section I began to wonder if this girl had undergone a change that my little Daisy had gone through as well.
A mysterious part of this poem, and the reason I chose it, lies near the end of it: “we think we know how this ends, how good it feels to play at this, violence and darkness”. I believe the speaker is making a statement about human nature. I think that this poem tells us that of course you never lose the child in you, but I think that this poem tells us that we also keep the savage. The girl turns from being a little girl being blindfolded and hitting a cardboard animal to a warrior fighting a beast, just like my Daisy had turned from cuddly to protective. This simple party game went from being a fun challenge to a full on fight, just like ones we fought in the past.
The speaker of the poem says that the party goers “think [they] know how this [game] ends”. This is an important lines because we all think of course she is eventually going to hit the pinata, what else could be the outcome? To me, it seems like we are talking about more than a party game here. We are talking about this history of the world. We all think that each time a problem arises that we are going to win. The first time the girl hit the pinata she missed and by doing that cracked her stick open. The next time she swung she had a better weapon to fight with and probably hit it a bit harder and more precisely than the last time. This is just like how humans do things, if we fail we come back hitting harder until we prevail. History repeats itself but it’s up to us to change the outcome when the pinata comes back around. Its our job to brandish our weapons and keep fighting until we defeat “the beast that harbors something sweet”.