Good Day Villanelle

You ran naked out the door.

The neighbours laughed; I chased you down.

I hardly see you anymore.

 

I know you’re busy.

Did I tell you when you were little how

you ran naked out the door?

 

You got halfway down the street

before I caught you in my arms.

I hardly see you anymore.

 

I think I told you this before:

I was giving you a bath and then

you ran naked out the door.

 

It happened fast.

The neighbours laughed.

I hardly see you anymore.

 

You have to watch a baby close.

I remember once —

 

You ran naked out the door.

I hardly see you anymore.

 

Damian Rogers, “Good Day Villanelle” from Dear Leader. Copyright © 2015 by Damian Rogers. Reprinted by permission of Coach House Books.

Source: Dear Leader (Coach House Books, 2015)

Dive in: 
  1. If you are a bit confused about whether it’s the mother or the daughter or both who “ran naked out the door,” don’t be embarrassed! Rogers has blurred those lines deliberately. But we obviously have a very different reaction to the two different scenarios: a little girl who escapes her mother’s grasp after a bath and runs naked down the street would probably seem cute and funny; an adult mother with dementia who does the same thing might make us feel sad and uncomfortable. How does this suspended confusion or tension contribute to the way we encounter the poem?
  2. In what ways do the speakers of this poem “hardly see” their loved ones now? (For example, How much physical description is included? What does it mean to “see” someone who is losing her memory and personality? What does it mean for that person to “see” someone whose name she can no longer remember?)
  3. Why might this poem be about a “good day,” as the title claims? How does a memory that is painful or embarrassing feel “good” as we look back on it?
  4. The repeating lines in a villanelle often encourage a kind of obsessive turning over of a problem or concern. So the story of the naked girl gets repeated, both in the retelling and as an action. How does our response to the story evolve and change as we read through the poem?
  5. In some ways the actions described in the poem are very funny, and the title seems to suggest that we are allowed to laugh a bit. Recite the first few stanzas as if you are a stand-up comedian. Consider the line (or phrase? or single word?) when the joke turns serious, and concentrate the tension on that moment.
  6. Imagine another scenario in which a child saying or doing something might seem sweet or funny while an adult doing the same thing would evoke a very different response. Write a poem about that difference.

 

Useful Links:

  1. A short interview with Rogers in which she discusses the simultaneous changes in her life that inform her book Dear Leader, and mentions this villanelle in particular:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbyBseBZShc
  2. An informative resource about Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/younger-early-onset
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