He has 1000 poems. WHY ISN’T HE PUBLISHED?
Today I will be talking about Dan Schneider’s Siamese Reflection. This would be one of the definitive poems where, if you are an amateur poet thinking of leaving any sort of poetic legacy and setting your own stake in the realm of Literature, this poem would immediately make you decide to burn your entire corpus in an instant – assuming you have the insight into its power. This is because it will make you think of all the years that you have to build your own formal skills in order to reach something like this.
But, if you were a person not particularly concerned or just getting into poetry – maybe your eyes would skim over this weird clutter of stanzas and you would have no idea what the hell is going on.
Anyway, due to the structure of the poem, I can’t paste it here, so I will link it.
Siamese Reflection is inspired by the two Siamese Twins – Chang & Eng Bunker. They were the original twins that led to the moniker ‘Siamese twins’ being created. They married two sisters, had tons of children, and when one of them died, the other died shortly after.
Siamese Reflection, although it doesn’t look like it, is a sonnet. Actually, it’s four sonnets. Or, actually, it’s 2 sonnets and a middle ‘mega-sonnet’. Or, actually, its 2 mirror-sonnets. You will notice that two of the stanzas seem to act as the ‘crossroads’ for some other stanzas, which means that two ‘sonnets’ share the same second stanza.
What Dan does with this, is that he writes it in such a way that the ‘crossroads’ can be reinterpreted depending on what path you follow.
But where does one start?
After trying to read multiple pathways from backwards and diagonal, I decided that the best path is vertical down, left-to-right. Just like a normal sonnet. So starting with “I feel the love you make…” then after reading that sonnet, going down with “I thought I was loved…” and finally “I float, as if in a gray soup of isness”.
One thing to take note is the dream-like drifting cadence of the words. The level of abstraction is quite strong here, which is why some portions can be hard to grasp.
So let’s start with “I feel the love you make…”
If you read this mini-sonnet, you can see that it is about one of the brother’s making love to his wife, and the other one feeling it through him. If you go by the placement of the name, it is Chang (the one who will die later) that is the one feeling it. There are some nods to his incoming death, with ‘eyes go white’, ‘quiet earth’, the centre stanza’s ‘coldness’, and the direct statement ‘growing into death’. But because this is also mixed with the lovemaking, these parts could also be about the internal alienation he feels from the brother split away from him – as well as sexual repression. Furthermore, the dreamlike abstraction creates the sense that both identities are mixed up, seen most clearly in the ‘It is you! – Or is it me?’ – and we also aren’t exactly sure what the ‘beast, unknown to the norm’ denotes. It could be Chang’s own lust from having to bear this erotic act that he’s separate from. It’s also ambiguous what ‘the other side of me’ means – referring to Eng (the physical ‘other side’) or Chang’s internal ‘other side’ – his lust.
But if we were to situate the mood of this part of the sonnet – it would be desire and sensuality. As we travel along the river of the poem, this slowly twists over with Chang’s death, into a deeper metaphysical stillness that permeates through the middle mega-sonnet.
This mega-sonnet begins with one of the brother dreaming of the other dying, while ‘thinking he was loved’. The dream brother seems to be dragging the living one into a ‘tragedy’ and ‘ruins’ with him – going through the ‘collisions of love’. This is probably Eng’s later death a few hours after Chang – almost as though he was spiritually linked to his brother. There is a very Hamlet end to this stanza which is ‘I dream, as you sleep more soundly, within its tides’.
And then we come to the middle stanza again – but this time it has less to do with alienation and is the straight-up description of death. This is how the different thread subtly shifts the meanings of the middle stanza.
As we get to the stanza at the centre of the poem itself – it is also the stanza that causes the entire poem to shift into the Death portion – because it ends with the straight declaration ‘I wake alone within one head’. It is also an elegiac declaration of love for his brother, getting through the ‘years of circuses and shows’ (their early stint as a sideshow freak). It’s extremely beautiful.
Then we come to another ‘crossroads’ stanza, which describes the blood clot that Chang died from. But this part also brings us back to the sense of dream with the ‘dream of the foundering hulk of blue, bound for my body, content to linger’ – and now Life mixes with Death as the corpse ‘lingers’ with the living twin’s body.
The last stanza of the mega-sonnet where Eng is now consumed by his twin’s spirit and becomes ‘your death’s last part’ due to their ‘my heart, which connect with yours, now devoid of love’.
The final sonnet completes the image.
It begins with the living twin ‘floating in a gray soup of isness’ thinking about when both twins were children in the same ‘humid skin’ where ‘death was just the future’s business’. But now he is ‘dreaming of the suddenly mortal world’. The childhood will be contrasted with this current dream in the last stanza as ‘the younger, nicer dream’.
As the sonnet goes back to the second ‘crossroads stanza’, we once again get that image of Life mixing with Death. Let’s see what the last stanza does with this now.
If the previous mega-sonnet ended with both twins – living and dead – being unified, the last stanza is the existential killer that places that into question. It begins with the ‘spoiling of the younger, nicer dream’ through the ‘founder hulk of blue’. But this entire stanza does not deal its puncher until the final line, choosing to linger on Eng grabbing Chang’s hand and pondering – before the finale.
“The dead do not realize. They only seem.”
Was there really a spiritual connection, uniting the soul departed to the soul still alive, or was this all a dream? This line thrums with the finality of death – Chang does not realize, he only ‘seems’. Yet this ‘seeming’ was enough to destroy Eng a few hours later. Did he die from this delusion of his brother’s spirit dragging him away?
Think about this compared to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” – while Hamlet is still in doubt by the end of his soliloquy, this finale is more definite and thrumming. The entire intermixing of Life, Death, Dream, Identity, Love, Spirits that takes place through this entire poem goes several thousand levels above that soliloquy, places more into question, and rings with more finality and existential tremor.
Most importantly, the cadence and imagery actually creates the feeling of drifting between identity within the reader itself. The crossroad stanzas cause lines to be repeated and creates a somnolent sense, while the meanings will shift with each re-reading. This is a poem that should be described as symphonic, mixing ambiguous motifs and themes to create, not a weak obscurity like some surrealists or symbolists, but a thrumming existential quandary. It is a poem that should be studied more so than many others. It is a poem that is so ridiculous in its conception and execution that you have to be awed by the skill that was placed within it.
So I repeat again: WHY ISN’T HE PUBLISHED?