Playing Possum

As an opossum, I am skilled
At thanatosis, which I hear
Is seeming dead, unconscious willed,
When threatenings do cause me fear.
I do go dead in look and smell,
In involuntary response,
And fool intruders very well,
In very quite detailed nuance.
One being a death grimace grim,
With mouth wide open and teeth bared.
I went to a road on a whim.
My space with cars and trucks I shared.

Good at my playing possum skill
Went bad when I became road kill.

by Ima Ryma

Comments (4)

The poet continues his apologia for waywardness and unfaithfulness. This he does with an extended double simile of sharpening the appetite with aperitifs and the practice of avoiding future sickness by taking preventative medicines. The sonnet occurs within a group of five which do their best to account for the poet's wilfulness and back-sliding. Having declared that love is eternal and unchanging in sonnet 116, he is now placed in the awkward situation of showing why he has not been true to the ideal. This sonnet is one of his attempts to rectify the situation and justify himself with arguments which inevitably have to be over-subtle and sophisticated. The youth has perhaps claimed that alteration and change in lovers is natural and justifiable. They need not therefore maintain eternal truthfulness. As evidence of this he cites the poet's own moral turpitude and his willingness to roam and sail before the wind, an accusation which obviously hits home.
Whether or not we are prepared to accept the poet's excuses depends more on our attitude to the youth and on our perception of how their mutual relationship has developed, rather than on any abstract and unsolicited moral principles. We probably tend to think that the youth has by this stage shown himself to be cynical, cold and very demanding in his love, and therefore it is not entirely inapropriate that he be paid back in his own coin. On the other hand it could be that the poet, on looking back over the escapades of which he has been accused, begins to think that he derived very little from them, and that they were comparable to taking a course of medicine. This interpretation would certainly be supported by the evident disgust of the next sonnet, and we should therefore not overstress the cranks and turns of argument which characterise his defence in this one. For if their love is to be resurrected, saved, rejuvenated or whatever, then reasons must be found for burying the past and starting afresh with an unblemished heart. In that sense the arguments may well be sincere, and believed in up to a point, for when discovered and confronted in flagante delicto what else is to be done but admit one's error and turn the episodes into moral tracts which actually benefited the doer excellent poem, perhaps love sickness has no cure ★
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