The Three That Speak to Us: “Bodhisattva,” “Eating Walnuts,” “In Memory of My Parents Who Are Not Dead Yet”

Best American Poetry of 2015 was the newest version of BAP available to our class, which made it very interesting to see poetry written within the last two years. Our three favorite poems, “Bodhisattva”, “Eating Walnuts”, and “In Memory of My Parents Who Are Not Dead Yet”, are all very influential and complex. Each has its own message that goes in-depth about serious and mature topics. “Bodhisattva” is about the influence of religion and acts of selflessness. “Eating Walnuts” is about how something so easy can be so complicated at the same time. And finally, “In Memory of My Parents Who Are Not Dead Yet” is about the impact of love on humans.

“Bodhisattva” by Sarah Arvio is a great poem to teach to teenagers in our generation. After a first read, this poem seems like a love poem, but another read will reveal something more. The poem depicts a person and his gratefulness for their “Bodhisattva”, which is a person or being that takes away all of your pain and delays nirvana for themselves to help you. This idea comes from Buddhism and seems like a significant sacrifice to me, as someone would have to be extremely selfless in order to do this.

In 2017 and 2015, this poem shows us what we are lacking as a culture – selflessness. Everyone is focused on himself. In high school, if your reception of a deferral allowed your best friend to be accepted into the college you both want, would you do it? It’s a hard thing to think about, because of the possibility of personal loss. I think we all need to practice a little more selflessness because committing such an act would bring many benefits to the friend. This poem tells us that the decision was thoughtless, that the Bodhisattva “saved” the speaker and did so selflessly.

The whole poem sounds like a vow, saying things like “Let’s give a rosebud to nothing at all” and other plans. Just thinking about someone delaying something amazing just to get someone else there makes you feel conflicted, as you feel happy for the receiver and bad for the giver but you also feel proud that the giver would even do that. There is a lot of complexity within this poem, not just in the emotional response it offers, but in the language of the poem. The poem uses a few words over and over like Bodhisattva, roses, and nothing. The poem uses these words in many phrases such as, “How I love the new roses of nothing, / Oh my Bodhisattva of nothing”. These cascading phrases almost seem to overlap each other in an interesting rhythm like someone just cannot stop saying all the reasons they love you. The speaker is so thankful for this selfless act and it seems to me like the Bodhisattva never asked “What’s in it for me?”.

The poem is very mysterious for its pairing of the word “rose”, normally something showing abundance of love, with the word “nothing”, which is empty and dark. This poem is definitely magical, due to its whimsical speech, and has some of the most beautiful sounding lines such as: “Oh my Bodhisattva of new roses / you’ve saved me from my no-love neurosis…let’s lie down in a bed of roses”. Because of its beauty, I love to read this poem; in fact I go back to it quite a bit because it is so great. Even Katherine Crump agrees, a great poem is one that you can’t let go.

“Eating Walnuts” by Jennifer Keith is a perfect poem for highly stressed teenagers in our generation. This poem is about breaking open walnuts and how any way you do so is probably going to be wrong in some way. The poem starts with telling the reader that “the old man knows the trick” and that everyone has been doing it “wrong for many years” which is not the best message, you would think. However the idea that you are going to make mistakes and that everything doesn’t always have to turn out perfect is a great message for teens in America today.

This poem uses language to convey feelings we all know, such as the line talking about you opening it wrong, “You sweep your lap, and mutter, try again”. Every time we do something that we think is “so clear and easy” wrong, we get frustrated about it. This poem even emotionally makes me frustrated, like why can’t I do something so simple, especially something that I know someone else can do like the “old man”.

This is an important idea and gives you an intellectual response – why does this have to be so hard for me and not for others? The answer lies in the complexity of the poem, that not everything is always going to be easy, but that it is also not always going to be easy for everyone. We see that people have different strengths and weaknesses, of course, but there are some things that I think teens think everyone has to be good at in some way, yet some people aren’t. Examples of this are the gold and silver of Darien, school, and sports. Some people naturally have a knack for one, or sometimes even both. For me the latter is definitely not my strong suit but some may say, hey but you can run track, right? Nope, I cannot even run if my life depended on it. And that’s okay! That’s the main message of this poem, that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to be bad at things.

And I think that is kind of magical, that it is a big burden off the shoulders of many high school students, that you can fail and it’s okay. Even if you try over and over like how the rhythm and repetition of this poem shows you, you still may fail, but at least you are still trying which is a big deal. You could just give up after your “snack ends up quite pulverized” and grab a pretzel or something but if you don’t, “eventually you learn” how to do it right.  And when you do figure it out, the old walnuts and “the shattered pieces tell a story” of how you got there. This poem is great because that it teaches you without you even realizing you learned anything at all, that you can fail and everything doesn’t have to be perfect all the time.

“In Memory of My Parents Who Are Not Dead Yet” by Emily Kendal Frey seems like a letter of some sorts upon first glance, but once the reader digs deep enough the truth reveals itself. Humans feed off of love, family, and relationships. No matter what, someone in your life loves you for who you are. It describes an in-depth version of love, how even though you love someone, it doesn’t mean you want them to know everything about you. With the line, “I worry I’ll run into you at a party”, Frey describes a situation she would not want to experience with her parents. The tone of this poem is very serious, making an already confusing topic harder to comprehend. This poem almost contradicts itself, giving the message that humans feed off of love, yet people are hesitant to expose themselves to their loved ones in today’s society. Frey explains how love is one of the strongest things on earth, but “if love dies it was already dead”, meaning that if you don’t someone anymore, then that love has been fading ever since its inception.

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