Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Tag

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Ciaran Carson

THE TAG

round your wrist
bore a number

your name
and D.O.B.

two weeks after
two stone less

the day you
came home it

slipped off
no need to snip

*

Whose wrist is it the tag is around? Who is the poet talking to, directly, who is having a tag around ‘your’ wrist? Normally anybody having such a tag around his/her wrist might be a child, or a baby. This might be the kind of tag one would find most of the time in a hospital, perhaps in a maternity ward.

This short poem is made up of mostly inchoate lines of seemingly unfinished constructions. In so far as they are sentences, they do not follow the normal convention of capitalising the first letter of the starting word in a sentence. Neither do they end the sentence with a full stop. Also absent are punctuation marks separating a succession of items, like for “a number, your name and D.O.B.”

This is because the person who has this tag around his/her – “your” – wrist is such an inchoate being, that we’re not told of its gender, even. It is so immediately recent in existence that it only has a number and a name – but still nameless to us – and date of birth that is not even fully spelt out (“D.O.B.”) or has no specific date revealed.

The line with “bore a number” is rather telling. Pertaining to birth, the word “bore” would mean one bears, or bore, a child. However, in this case it is not a child but a number, something cold and not even specific – which number?- is borne.

The only specificity, in the third stanza, is the number of weeks and the weight that the child lost: two. The placing of “after” and “less” at the end of the two lines in this stanza underpins the moving forward of a life and the cramping of it. The mirroring of those two words and of “two”, sitting opposite them, adumbrates this movement and expiration of life as a cycle.

The penultimate stanza has lines which should have been a parents’ celebration of new life if they were in another context other than in this one. The last line in this stanza has a very poignant, and powerful, run-off, when “it” enjambes down to the first line of the last stanza which begins with “slipped”. The baby’s tag slipped off, and so has the baby's short two-week life. The tag did this so effortlessly because of the weight the baby lost, that there is no need to snip it off, as there was that necessity, when the child was born, to snip off the cord connecting him to the placenta.

*

The Tag by Ciaran Carson first appeared in the February 15, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

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21 Comments:

Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

I wondered about what had happened to the baby that she became two stones less. Yet, there's nowhere in the piece that says the baby's condition.

Possibly she is still alive, just impoverished. Or perhaps only in this poem, she exists so.

I think perhaps your allusion to the placental cord is a bit reaching beyond the poem... I liked the final image of the tag falling... and the "snip" signaling an abrupt end.

12:52 AM, February 26, 2010  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

I alluded to the cord only as a final aside (in a dependent clause). Perhaps placing this clause at the end of the sentence, as well as at the end of the piece, has given it more prominence than intended.

However, the intention is to contrast or connect 'snip'-ing off the tag with snipping off the cord. One action has let slip life, the other started one.

8:53 AM, February 26, 2010  
Blogger Han said...

Seems to be in the mode of William Carlos Williams. It made me smile.

8:12 PM, February 27, 2010  
Blogger MT said...

Gosh, I guess that's poetry for you. You smile, and I almost cry.

These short lines, with their lack of detail, almost put us in the parents' place--not knowing much, until all they know is the final, crushing fact.

Few words, powerful effect.

11:21 PM, March 05, 2010  
Blogger Ee Leen Lee said...

Well done

4:19 AM, March 20, 2010  
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2:36 PM, March 30, 2010  
Anonymous Neal Deesit said...

First, all patients, not just children, get a hospital identification bracelet.

Second, the stone is a former unit of measure, defined in British legislation as a weight equal to 14 avoirdupois pounds. Hence, two stone is 28 pounds.

The heaviest surviving newborn seems to have been a 22lb 8oz boy born to Carmelina Fedele in Aversa, Italy, in September 1955.

Whomever this poem is addressing, it is not a baby, and likely not even a child. The 50th percentile weight for a 15 yr old boy is about 124 lbs; a 28 lb loss would be a loss of 22.5% of body weight.

Sometimes facts aid in understanding even poetry.

10:11 AM, July 19, 2010  
Blogger Geetha said...

Well to me it seemed someone taken away in a civil war for inquiry and being returned after two weeks - two stone less.

4:11 PM, July 19, 2010  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Neal, you must learn never to take on poetry so literally. Poems are always over the top.

You're right that 2 stones equals 28 pounds. but read the line again, and you'll see it says "two stone less", not "two stoneS less".

Why the deliberate omission? one might wonder

5:55 PM, July 19, 2010  
Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

interesting observation neal, I would never have thought to check if babies could weigh so much

it may be true that the subject isn't a baby, as you say

but why mention "D.O.B" in the fourth line? I feel that the poet wants to allude something about birth; it immediately identifies the subject to me as someone whose birth is important in the poem... the speaker's child, perhaps.

the next line "two weeks after" tells me when this poem is set.

... and a good thing Leon mentions that the next line does not say "two stoneS less", but "two stone less"; I'd missed that the first time I had commented on this thread. I think it's customary that the unit word "stone" is not pluralised i.e. one stone, two stone, three stone... jillion stone

So now reading the poem again, it seems that it's a plain but ambiguous statement:

1. as a description of the baby's weight, "two stone less" (read with a pause after stone), it can meean that he's trying to convey the weight of the baby. -- less than two stone.

and 2. (the simpler, thus more likely, interpretation) the speaker has lost two stone in the two weeks since the D.O.B.

It's credit to the poet that he's managed the trick of mirroring here, to let us imagine the tag slipping off a whithered wrist at the end of the poem.

Thanks again for the factoid Neal, I'd rejoin your statement: facts always aid understanding of Everything. :)

4:23 AM, July 27, 2010  
Anonymous irishpoetry said...

I felt this was a very powerful thought-provoking poem, maybe with some raw emotions over this baby, with some special significance to the wrist tag. I like it.

3:05 AM, October 04, 2010  
Anonymous beta_agus said...

For me, poetry is the expression of feelings ..

2:48 AM, December 21, 2011  
Blogger Sindhu S said...

Oh why did you guys stop? I came here looking for a poem. I see that you stopped posting in 2010. Sad! Will you start again?

10:43 AM, May 22, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe :) -- madcap machinist

1:25 PM, June 15, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Neal here, especially after looking at the poet's bio.

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