Compatabalist Ken Babstock

Compatibilist attempts to establish a relationship between contradictory concepts and entities. I often found that there was a duality between opposite forces - such as feelings of sadness and happiness, the natural and unnatural world, etc. Babstock’s message is that “appear[ing] whole” is not easy without the help of others (3). In other words, a human is not a singular species; we depend on other humans and our relationships with them to survive. The consequence of being alone - as Babstock notes in the first two stanzas - is intermittent awareness of oneself, a lack of freedom, and incompleteness.

Because of the duality of emotions within an individual, Babstock affirms that knowing pain is a part of existence. Therefore, one must establish an acceptance of it to be able to move forward. To show that it is possible to feel pain while surrounded by positivity, the speaker notes that they “lived in that same light but felt / alone” (20-21). The speaker, in other words, is living in the same light as a field of sunflowers that are attempting to do the same thing: regain happiness. When these flowers “dial their ruddy faces toward / what they needed” Babstock is not removing the possibility of sadness, unwellness, or pain - even though the flowers are under the light (17-18). In fact, time under the Sun goes by, and while their “chalices [were] upturned,” or facing towards the light, they were also “gilt-edged” (19). It is possible to heal oneself in times of guilt. Though humans, like these flowers, experience blame and act in ways they cannot account for, one must accept mistake as a part of life. Learning to love and forgive oneself is as important as loving and forgiving another.

The way Babstock describes the field of sunflowers is fascinating. By use of enjambment, the field of sunflowers can be seen as “a field of sun-” emphasizing more than one sun, even though the Sun is alone in this solar system. The Sun is whole enough to extend to the flowers, both literally - e.g. photosynthesis - and in the context of the Sun becoming sunflowers. Babstock is creating numerous combinations of objects that no longer have to be singular, or on their own. One even considers a sundial as the speaker notes that the flowers “dial their ruddy faces” (17). Furthermore, the Sun’s rays reach all objects and entities, connecting them with a blanket of positivity.

The duality of opposites is also present in the next few lines. The speaker, who lives in the same light as the sunflowers but feels alone, calls his brother. He feels alone and worries for his brother, saying so over the phone. His brother, in response, whispers. The difference between a whisper and speaking plainly subtly demonstrates two opposite modes of speech. Compatibility, therefore, is given to opposites who are able to exist or work together in combination through problems or conflict.

At this point, the speaker forgives his brother because he fears loss. The loss of a record collection and the loss of a family member are two entirely different things, but in both circumstances, the speaker feels sad. It is possible, then, to be living among people and be unhappy. Relationships are not always a remedy for pain, or even loss - as we see in this poem, sometimes people hasten feelings of loss. Relationships, in conclusion, are of extreme importance to Babstock; however, they can be between two controversial and imperfect beings. Relationships, though united, are sometimes divided and unpleasant.

There also appears to be a duality between the natural and unnatural world. The natural world is represented by a village called the Valley of Peace, where “a pond reflected its dragonflies / over a black surface at night” (31-32). Interestingly, nature is used as a tool to represent negativity, sadness, and pain. After all, the pond seems to represent the speaker’s tears as he cries himself to sleep over his brother and the fear of loss. The dragonflies represent the source of the speaker’s pain. The pond reflects these hovering insects, and both entities leave an impression on each other like the mirror in Nocturnal Migrants or the pond in The Hinterland. The unnatural world is represented by “the nuclear reactor’s far-off halo / of green light” (33-34). Controversially, the unnatural world is given a positive outlook by means of a halo and green, happy light that lightens the dreary night sky. Perhaps this is Babstock’s way of enforcing perspective, allowing his readers to see the positive in the negative.

After all, the fate of the Sun is often perceived as negative - engulfing all planets and collapsing into itself only after exploding - yet humans still have hope: there is positivity to be found in the “vigils with candles / in cups” that represent solidarity, support, progress, and togetherness (38-39). Though “World death / [is] on the event horizon,” which refers to the boundary around a black hole beyond which no light or other radiation can escape, the speaker has found a way to replace most of his records (37-38). In other words, though death is inevitable - perhaps a point of no return - humans have the agency to reconcile, to move forward, to heal, to explore. Dogs do the same thing. Though rain inevitably comes, dogs still want “out into their atlas of smells; to pee / where before they had peed, and might / well pee again” (7-9). Babstock not only strengthens the relationship between opposites - such as dogs and humans - but reestablishes their similarities and unifies them on common ground. The point of life is to forgive ourselves for acting in unaccountable ways, to live as wholly and fully though the sun threatens to pull us apart, and finally, to be held by another person who experiences the same opportunity of life.


Created with images by dominicotine - "vinyl records next to glass door"

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