Completely Subjective: Amina Calil’s “Blouse of Felt”

I cannot confess to being a perfect human. I most certainly cannot confess to being a perfect interpreter of poetry. It took me two tries to find a poem; the first, Mr. Janosco had to guide me away from, as it was published years prior to what I hoped to find. When I finally found the one I’m writing about, a piece called “Blouse of Felt” by Amina Calil, I was drawn by its only known character, the admirable, and his four stars. Hoping to serve one day and to make sense of this character in the poem, I hopped on, with an unprecedented desire.

It was through my first attempts to understand the poem, however, that I realized what an arduous task this would turn out to be. Whether it was her mix-matching of different lines or the seemingly useless analogies of spikes, I felt overwhelmed the minute I tried to step into the narrator’s shoes.

To get more of an understanding of the author’s background, I went back to the origins of the poem: a 2000 edition of Faucheuse, a magazine as hard to find as the understanding of the poem itself. Imagine hoping to find just the slightest bit of useful information to write a piece among dozens of photos of half nude people mixed with flowers and other objects. This was my experience. After a week’s worth of these photos, I found her poem sitting alone between two such images. I understood at this point that artistic talent would play an important role in understanding the piece.

Finally, the poem. After a few hours of looking for any other bits of information, I sat down to read it, deciding I would have to go through with baby steps, organizing different pieces of information, in an attempt to interpret its message.

“Assembly tree” steals the first line of the poem, followed by the author’s description of the “Admirable” who clutches his “lapel” as the narrator touches him. Before continuing, she (based on the author, I believe the narrator is female) gets the “assurances” that his “four-stars” aren’t “upset.” He is a four star officer, such as an admiral, who has the power of perhaps an entire fleet at his disposal, yet still seems almost frightened by a woman’s touch. The poem’s mood is carried by this idea: a “pinwheel” is caught in the “stillness of creation,” while an “umbrella” appears “bathed.” The unseen energy that exists between them is a calm yet awkward experience, and the lines most certainly capture it: they move around, jump, and take pauses, much as an awkward conversation would.

She almost seems to try and describe herself. She encompasses the “spiked blades” of a “flung disc,” with a “pom-pom” circling at the center, meaning that she feels as though she’s a good person with a hardened shell. The admiral, meanwhile, appears to be uneasy. He argues “they” can view them from “square portals” on a “nut-shaped” hill. They, as it stands, could be townspeople who for whatever reason would disapprove of the narrator’s affairs. She then addresses the admiral with another question, asking him “what is that?”, to which he responds“it” was a perpetrator on his “widowers” mat. It starts to become clear that the admiral has lost a wife, and it seems as though he is somewhat shy about this encounter with a new women, perhaps concerned he will upset his wife. 

Finally, she says in “one frame” his “hand” is elsewhere, but in the next, their “cheeks” are at a “glaze towards his wall of tan,” which would put them face to face with each other.  At the end of this encounter, she notices the“ferret” on his lip has gone limp, as he “nurses” its “Prussian health.” Of course, there isn’t a ferret on his lip; it represents a mustache, likely a Prussian one, which were common with their generals and admirals.

At this point, I consider this a success; I feel I have covered everything. Or so I thought. Looking over what I’ve written down, the mention of his four stars still stands out as out of place. After considering it some more, I feel it represents a concept of power versus love.

 I can’t really speak about love; it’s something I really don’t think I’ve ever truly experienced. Of course, you get a few heart breaks here and there, and you might think you’re in love, but I don’t think it’s ever something I can truly confess to have felt. However, I can relate to the admiral. I often feel that raw energy he expresses in the piece, the feeling that the course you’re taking is the wrong one, yet you almost tear yourself apart looking for the right one. The attraction to girls comes and goes; yet, in some cases, I still feel an urge, a feeling that one person seems almost right for me, and I end up fighting myself over whether to pursue it, or let my feelings drizzle out and attempt to move on. I am the admiral. I feel this tugging sensation that tells me to stop, yet I can’t. I feel the rush as I assume I’m strong enough to handle my emotions, that I can overcome any feelings. And maybe it’s the stereotype of masculinity that drives me, or that I assume I can handle myself better. Whatever the true reasoning behind my feelings, I can relate to  the admiral, who shares this idea of masculinity in an ultimate sense, yet is still also drawn in. 

The admiral feels the futility of his power— being a four star admiral puts you at the top of lists; your name is brought up in the White House more often than you could ever imagine. Yet, in this encounter with the narrator, he still acts as though he’s holding back. Having lost his his wife, he probably hopes to be strong and not fall for other women, yet when she touches him, he finds himself clutching his coat, almost to try and reassure himself of what kind of a man he is. She then gets the approval of his stars, acting almost as independent elements from the man. As they meet, he worries about others seeing them, since he’s concerned with how he will be viewed. While this all plays into the idea of his self-situated power, it also works with a driving force of love which seems to relax this admiral’s power-desiring side: as she describes, his facial work goes limp, giving into her desires.

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