cathy-song.jpg Teyona Roberts A1


Poet Cathy Song was born and raised in Hawaii and is of Korean and Chinese descent. Her work draws on her rich Korean-Chinese ancestry as well as her experiences as an American and a woman. In poems that have been compared by critics to the muted tints of watercolor paintings, Song has consistently created a world rich with narrative and imagery that transcends her own ethnic and regional background. Song herself resists classification as an “Asian American” or “Hawaiian” writer, calling herself “a poet who happens to be Asian American.” Her first volume of poems, Picture Bride, won the 1982 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and was also nominated for that year’s National Book Critics Circle Award. The volume’s success carried the young poet to national recognition, and other awards followed.

Song’s father was a pilot and the family traveled extensively during her youth. In interviews, Song has credited her early interest in writing to her family’s travels: “Our family travels started my writing. I guess I was around nine years old when I decided I wanted to be the family chronicler.” Her interest and talent were encouraged by her high school teacher, the Hart Crane biographer John Unterecker. Song attended Wellesley College and earned an MFA from Boston University. She met her husband, a medical student at Tufts University, while in Boston. The couple moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1984 while he completed his residency at Denver General Hospital, and there Song wrote Frameless Windows, Squares of Light (1988) and began a family. In 1987 they returned to Honolulu, where she now lives, combining her writing with teaching creative writing to students at several universities.

Christmas Eve

By Cathy Song

1 Midnight find you driving home after work.

2 The streets are empty.

3 The houses, muted and curved

4 like caves under a wave of snow,

5 seem far away tonight.

6 A streetlight blinks on and off,

7 red, green, and red,

8 mechanical and impersonal

9 as the Christmas lights

10 dotting the invisible trees.

11 They, too, seem to belong to the air.

12 The children will be asleep,

13 tired of waiting this longest and darkest of days,

14 their faces opening like hands to a dream.

15 it is all you can do to recall such bliss,

16 the nights you slept

17 in the sheltered knowledge of a tree.

18 Grave and beautiful,

19 it breathed in the center of the house for weeks.

20 Stepping onto the cold bare floor,

21 past your parents’ room,

22 you would leave your small bed

23 to find it still there, alive in the green dark.

24 Your wife will be wrapping the last gift,

25 alone in the basement with a family

26 of socks and shirts,

27 each one identical,

28 obedient and inexhaustible.

29 She asked for nothing of you this Christmas.

30 And you will not surprise her.

31 Carrying the silver package up the stairs,

32 she will glance out the window

33 noting the hour and the snow.

34 The tracks the children left have disappeared.

a sad christmas.jpg

Poem Analysis:

In the poem “Christmas Eve” by Cathy Song, on the exterior the poem may just seem like the poet is just describing the day before Christmas. In fact the narrator tends to be describing an unhappy family on the day before Christmas day. By using words like “muted”, “dark”, “cold”, and “disappeared” the reader can interpret a dejected or depressed mood. Christmas Eve is supposed to be full of love, Christmas spirit, and children sleeping anxiously in their warm cozy beds. However, the kids are sorrowful of stepping out in hope that the Christmas tree they have came to live with, will not vanish like their footprints in the snow. The wife doesn’t want anything at all from her supposed husband, which in a sense makes the marriage out to be a decayed level of love. Cathy Song uses the term “you” to draw the reader in more to the poem. It made me feel as though these events were happening to me, and every word she said was hitting home. Interpretation of the poem was not difficult, though the poem is meant for an adult. Revisiting the point of view portrayed, the usage of “you” almost seems antagonizing. It was my fault for coming home late, it was my fault my wife is wrapping gifts by herself, it is my fault I didn’t get to see my children’s footprints in the snow, and it is my fault I failed at getting my wife something for Christmas. The poem makes you feel at that low of value, like what kind of man would miss such a beautiful and precious day to spend with their family. The family seems almost separated. The father is always working while the mother takes care of the children’s needs. Song’s father was a pilot, so this poem could very well narrate actual events that took place in her life, but from her father’s point of view.

Points of Reference
By Cathy Song

1 It was like falling through a mirror
2 into someone else’s story,
3 the years when the children were small.
4 Your mother’s story perhaps
5 of falling into a lake
6 at the edge of summer
7 when you were still in the stars,
8 waiting to be borne across the water,
9 her body, leaf-light,
10 skimming across the tar-green water,
11 thick as the well water
12 where the blind trout lived.
13 As children you knew he lived there,
14 swallowed into the sunless shaft,
15 his tail a blunt and soft propeller,
16 stirring the velvet water.

17 Sleep wrapped in water
18 and moss-green fur,
19 summer nights you climbed the hill
20 to peer into the dark,
21 listening for your name
22 as it fell like a coin into a well.
23 Somewhere between desire and acceptance—
24 blossoms of water
25 opening at the sound of you—
26 your eyes grew accustomed to the dark.

27 When you still were in the stars
28 she’d say of a time before you were born,
29 as if the world, the animals and the trees
30 and the light within it were dark and prehistoric.
31 You wanted to believe there existed


Poem Analysis:

In the poem “Points of Reference” by Cathy Song, it is like the narrator takes the reader on a journey through the story in which his or her mother told them. In this case the reader in some way is able to interpret the story the narrator is telling from the narrator’s point of view. There isn’t any specific figurative language used throughout the poem. However, Cathy Song was able to wrap the reader into the poem by using great diction and very descriptive words. For example, instead of just saying the narrator’s mother got into the water Song added details such as, “skimming across the tar green water” (line 10). Adding such details gives the readers the chance to imagine and interpret the setting of the story. It also seems as though this story is being told to a young child, because the mother is kind of giving a white-lie by telling the child you were made by the stars and then you were born. Even though that may be true Song is of Asian descent, as this may as well be a religious belief of the narrator’s family. In line 17 it says “Sleep is wrapped in water and moss-green fur”, I am not sure if Sleep is that of a person that is sleeping or that is someone or something’s name. The poem also shows some cultural aspects, by adding “…waiting to be borne across the water”. This allows the reader to gain that the cultural value of where the mother is located is a water birth. Also, in Asian folklore and tales fish can be used to symbolize many things depending on the culture it originates from. I have noticed that a lot of Song’s poems tend to value the relationship between a mother and a child. Therefore, the audience of this poem would most likely be a mother or a child.