In “Heh! Paradise,” Libby Oughton speaks through the voice of a woman who is trapped in her domestic situation; she is married, with a daughter, but wholly unhappy and unable to escape her responsibilities. Through a series of fragmented, choppy and short sentences, Oughton’s narrator describes her home life, and the routine that she undergoes. She jumps from one action to the next, her job as mother and wife blending together with household chores: “vacuum floors./polish too. lemon oil. lemon life. shine me. shine/ baby. shine sun. spotless. our little homespot. oil our/life.” She goes on to reveal the sham that is her marriage: “…i can’t stand this marriage. merry/age./HUH! i can not bear/it. this baby child. stuck to me like /glue. stuck to us. sticking us”. She has no space in her heart for the child that has kept her in this unhappy marriage: “turned to baby. waiting to be/parked. inside my heart. heart closed for baby. for/everything. zippered tight.” While Oughton’s narrator continues to fill the role of wife and mother, she has removed herself, emotionally, from her life.
The narrator goes on to say that her husband, and her domestic situation, has taken her up, absorbed her, both physically and mentally, until she has lost all sense of self:
my body. in my mind. cadillac you said. parked in
me. taking up space. the little space i had left. lined
it. defined it. with your name. my own space. now i
fit yellow lines.
right-to-life. i am man. here. this space is
yours. your very own. these walls. these
time saving utensils. park your mind here.
this is my kingdom. king/dom. dome.
The poem continues, as Oughton’s narrator continues living her routine, and her domestic situation continues to consume her. Within the increasingly frantic pace of her fragmented thoughts, she states explicitly, “i am less,” and “i am dissolving.” By the end of the poem, “not even a shadow. remains of [her],” and she has been wholly and explicitly consumed.
However, in “sweeping up the mess,” Oughton offers a potential escape from entrapment; her narrator uses the reclaiming of her body as a metaphor for reclaiming her life. The poem starts with a strong affirmation that “it’s time damn it/get out the broom,” followed immediately with the revelation that it is the narrator’s destroyed and fragmented body that needs to be swept up:
littering floors and walls
there are my toes
now where are the nails
left toe right toe
this little piggy goes
this tendon needs attaching
something to stand on
are these my long leg bones
hips ribs backbone
my soft belly tender lips
breasts and all
the not-so-sturdy stuff
She goes on, starting the process of reclaiming her body: “i spend the day/sorting and piecing/me back together.” Then, once the rest of her body is sorted out, Oughton’s narrator identifies her heart as missing:
shake out the broom
last search for my heart
find magic markers
draw a big brand new one
to pin to my sleeve
Though she has succeeded in piecing her body back together, her heart is still broken. The healing process, though started, is incomplete. By putting her body back together, Oughton’s narrator starts the movement to escape entrapment, however, as her missing heart demonstrates, the movement is incomplete. On a larger scale, if Oughton’s poems are read as a representation of women in society, women can fight against marginalization by re-appropriating their bodies and their lives for themselves. Nevertheless, the memory of marginalization, of entrapment, remains and must remain, in order for the healing process to continue.
Tags: Libby Oughton