by Heather Adcock
Tragic experience tends to leave its mark in one way or another. Although wounds can heal in time, scars always remain. Peter Meinke addresses this issue in his beautiful poem entitled "Scars." The poem depicts a fatherís struggle with alcohol and the effect it had on his family. The narrator speaks of how he idolized his father when he was young and how he grew to understand him as he got older. Peter Meinke illustrates the theme of this poem through the use of symbolism, imagery, and structure.
First, symbolism is used to convey the poemís deeper meaning. The poem abounds with references to Greek mythology. Meinke writes, "His tragic knuckles spoke violence in demonic Greek" (112). The phrase "demonic Greek" conveys an image of Hades, Greek Lord of the Underworld. The reader understands that the father has a dark side, and this explains the many scars that cover his body. After being hit with a bat, the father drops to the ground "like a murdered king" (123). The symbolic reference to King Laius illustrates the relationship between the father and the son. Laius had an estranged son named Oedipus. Oedipus killed his father, not realizing who he was. Likewise, in the poem the son injures the father he idolizes. The son realizes that despite his great love for his father, perhaps he does not truly know him. Alcoholism changes a person, and this fact is illustrated through the use of symbolism.
In addition, the poemís theme is conveyed through vivid imagery. The fatherís numerous scars are described in great detail, and the reader is able to develop a visual image of his riddled body. The fatherís scars were "varied pink as a tongue against his whisky skin" (14). The description creates a vivid image of reddened, rough, asymmetrical wounds. Meinke describes a particular scar as "a satin rip" (17). In addition to creating a visual picture, this statement also conveys kinesthetic imagery. The reader can literally "feel" the raised, satin scar coursing over the fatherís arm. The simile comparing the fatherís liver to an old war-horse creates an image of an enlarged, grotesque liver. Scars that no one can see cause the father to drink excessively; his ragged liver fought many drunken battles before giving up. In these examples, imagery enlivens the poem and brings the central theme to life.
Finally, the structure of the poem serves to reiterate its central message. The author uses spacing techniques to call attention to certain phrases. Important images, words, and thoughts are spaced differently to draw attention to their meaning. In line 13, the words "too little" are spaced differently. This technique causes the reader to focus on the phrase. The father began to face his inner demons, but it was really too late. Throughout the poem, Meinke refrains from using punctuation, yet he describes the scars with terms such as "neat commas" and "surgical asterisks" (110). It is obvious that the author wants the only marks left in the readerís mind to be those on the fatherís body. The structure of the poem serves to fulfill this purpose.
Scars are left when a person has been hurt in some way. The most painful markings are often those on the inside, and they are not usually visible to the naked eye. The poem "Scars" chronicles the relationship between a young boy and his hurting father. The fatherís multiple outward scars are nothing compared to his inner wounds, which eventually cause him to drink himself to death. The boy and his mother love the father, despite his many problems and weaknesses. Unfortunately, they are not able to save him because the damage has already been done. The theme of the poem is beautifully enhanced through the use of symbolism, imagery, and structure, and its reflective nature touches the reader. It is true some scars may never heal, but many wounds can be prevented.
Heather Adcock, at the time of this writing a sophomore majoring in Nursing, wrote "Preventing Scars" for Dr. Marsha Mathewsí ENGL 1102 class during summer 2004 semester.