One of the aspects that makes Dylan’s piece memorable is the empathetic relationship he has with the step-child who must deal with his step-father’s purchasing habits and idiosyncrasies. The assumptions made to this end are wholly plausible even though they are not explicitly stated. These inferences make this a successful Poetry Connection since the life presented within the poem is being read within the life that we realize and live each day. – JY
The Book of A
Raised during the Depression, my stepfather
responded to the economic opportunity
of the 1950s by buying more
and more cheap, secondhand things
meant to transform his life.
I got this for a hundred bucks,
he said, patting the tractor that listed
to one side, or the dump truck that started
with a roar and wouldn’t dump.
Spreading their parts out on his tarp,
he’d make the strange whistle
he said he learned from the birds
for a whole morning
before the silence set in.
Who knows where he picked up
the complete A-Z encyclopedias
embossed in gold and published
in 1921? They were going to take these
to the dump, he said. Night after night
he sat up, determined to understand
everything under the sun
worth knowing, and falling asleep
over the book of A. Meanwhile, as the weeks,
then the months passed, the moon
went on rising over the junk machines
in the tall grass of the only
world my stepfather ever knew,
and nobody wrote to classify
his odd, beautiful whistle, formed
somehow, in the back of his throat
when a new ting seemed just about to happen
and no works he could say expressed his hope.
By Wesley McNair
The “The Book of A”, by Wesley McNair tells the story of a stepfather who tends to buy things that while useless makes him content. In the piece a son is narrating of his stepfather’s actions and his reasoning for why he buys things that may be considered junk. The beginning of the poem is started by informing the reader that the stepfather lived during the depression. This creates a negative connotation, but is then subsided by the light humor of the items that the stepfather buys. However, the items that the stepfather buys are symbolic numerous attempts to start a relationship with the stepson.
Stepfathers tend to get a bad reputation because they are new to families and children do not like to see somebody taking the place of their actual father. This is why the objects that the stepfather buys is only an allegory for the relationship between he and the stepson. The stepfather buys things, claims he does things, such as “make[ing] the strange whistle / he said he learned from the birds” (11-12), and attempts to better himself. Throughout all of these acts, the stepson is skeptical of the stepfather and he sees everything that the stepfather is bringing into the family as negative. Everything that the stepfather buys may be “cheap, secondhand things” (4) he is attempting to make a bond with the son.
The encyclopedia that the stepfather always falls asleep to is symbolic for the failure of a proper bond between him and the stepson. The stepfather is “determined to understand / everything under the sun / worth knowing” (20-22) which could be the life of the son. An assumption could be made that the stepfather is just moving in and is trying to rid of the uneasy feeling of the son. The stepfather is attempting to acclimate and be interested in the son but he keeps failing because the son is not allowing a connection between the two. Since the son is doing this, the stepfather must reread “the book of A” (23) every night.