Here is a tough poem by Fanny Howe, brilliant, I think, and rewarding. But it takes some work. I'll try to do a little of it for you.

The Advance of the Father

From raindrenched Homeland into a well: the upturned animal

was mine by law and outside the tunnel, him again!

Everywhere I turned the children ran between. "Loose dogs!"

he roared. I remember one sequence: a gulf in his thinking

meant swim as fast as you can. But it was winter and the water

was closed. The mouths of the children were sealed with ice.

After all, we were swimming in emotion, not water.

"Shut up! you Father!" I shouted over my shoulder. Racing,

but not spent, my mind went, "It isn't good that the human being

is all I have to go by . . . It isn't good that I know who I love

but not who I trust . . . It isn't good that I can run to a priest

but not to a plane . . . I lost my way exactly like this."

Inverted tunnel of the self.

Throat or genital search for the self.

Light that goes on in the self when the eyes are shut.

Uniformity impossible in the psyche's pre-self

like a day never spent, or how the unseen can make itself felt.

It was as if a boy were calling from the end of a long island.

Docks were vertical and warlike.

I would be on one side of my bed like a mother who can tell

she's a comfort because she's called mother.

Still, we both would be able to see the edge of the problem.

It's true that the person is also a thing.

When you are running you know the texture. I was clawing

at the palm of one hand and brushing up my blues with the other.

A man who wore his boxers at night remarked that my daughter

was tired. He had nothing to do with anything.

Ahead was the one with magnified eyes and historical data to last.

Know-how and the hysteria to accomplish his whole life.

It was horrible what we would do for peace.

We told him the story of the suffering he made us feel

with the ingratiating stoop of those who come second in the world.

Fanny Howe is a novelist as well as a poet and one of the most admired experimental writers of her generation. Her work requires the active participation of the reader, and this poem needs to be read once as a delirium and then again as an interpretive puzzle. If it's hard, it's hard because it stays near the language and experience of what she calls "the psyche's pre-self." She wants us to experience the disorientation of psychic disturbance, of not knowing quite where we are. "After all," she writes, "we were swimming in emotion, not water."

The very first lines are a puzzle. Read again and again, they begin to yield meaning. "From raindrenched Homeland into a well" may be a way of describing growing up, passing form the father's home into the psychological trap it inflicted. "The upturned animal/ was mine by law" suggests, first of all, a kitten or some other small animal tossed down a well. That body is "mine by law," which may mean that she is grown, of age, legally her own person (though a drowned person tossed into a well), and once she gets outside of the tunnel, which must also be a well, there he is again, the real or symbolic father we carry with us.

What to do with "Everywhere I turned the children ran between"? The first sense is simply confusion. Maybe it is the confusion of this woman, now an adult, trying both to attend to her self -- "the inverted tunnel of the self," she will call it in the third stanza -- and then compare it (the tunnel, the well) to the throat and to the vagina, speech and sex through which we try to come to some expression or understanding of ourselves. If so, the man roaring "Loose dogs!" may be the father, as it seems, or it may be the husband, holding the wife responsible for it. Hence her panic: "I remember one sequence; a gulf in his thinking meant swim as fast as you can." We are back in the imagery of drowning.

There is almost the outline of the plot of a novel here. The woman raised by a father who disliked disorder, who felt that she had been killed by him as one throws an animal down a well to drown, has married a man like her father. It is her children who are running around. And everything is frozen: "The mouths of the children were sealed with ice." Or maybe I am making up more story than the poem requires. Maybe the childern are simply a symbol of lively, ungovernable life -- "loose dogs!" -- and the woman is always in a panic of winter, always afraid of it.

Given a reading like this -- or something like this -- the second stanza comes into focus. It's about dealing in adult life with the internalized father. "Shut up," she says to him. But he won't shut up, and, her mind racing, she totals up the damage. The lines "It isn't good that the human being is all I have to go by" are particularly moving to me, and strange. It's hard to paraphrase, though I feel that I've been there. To be trapped in one's own habits and ways of thinking is sometimes to feel trapped in the human dimension itself. In a simple way, the lines say: I can't get past what I've learned to be. In a more complicated way, they imply that there might be something beyond "the human being." So the poem is about the longing for God (also so often seen as a Father) or about some realm uncontaminated by our human projections. "It isn't good that I know who I love but not who I trust" is the problem of learning love at a source from which you don't get much, and all the problems that creates in adult relationships.

Well, you can take it from there. The rest seems to be about the search for the self by this person who has lost her way. The poem appears in Howe's One Crossed Out from Graywolf Press.