An argument can be a satisfying rhetorical device. Good logic takes you with it, so that the argument’s movement feels inevitable and right, like riding passenger with a trusted driver on an open road on a sunny day. There can, on the other hand, be something profoundly unnerving about having an argument with a loved one—where even “winning” makes you feel like you’ve lost something irretrievable, left part of yourself locked into a posture of negative relation that surpasses the argument’s formal end. This latter kind of argument throws life’s stabilizing coordinates—time, selfhood, meaning—up for grabs, or perhaps reveals that stability has been a myth all along.
In Noah Baldino’s poem “The Argument,” the rhetorical jostles with the relational as a painful network of entanglements complicates the assertion of discrete selfhood. Baldino’s poem opens clearly enough: “It took my friend a moment to recognize him.” But the smooth road the plain syntax paves is made bumpy by the proliferation of pronouns. In the first couplet alone: “It,” “my,” “him,” “she,” “me,” “she,” “his.” Where the pronouns require antecedents, they refute the poem’s forward motion, necessitating that the reader look back to map relations. I cling to the I, which requires no antecedent. But the fallacy of self-sufficiency soon buckles; as I spend time with the poem, I see that its very premise is uncertain. I first read this poem as an accusation pointed outward—a description of the aftermath of a formative argument with someone the speaker had once been close to—but the unsure relationships charted by the pronouns make available a quieter reading: a quarrel with a past self. As with a stereogram, once I see this formerly hidden possibility, it becomes primary. In the unsettling toggling between the assertive outward pose and the querying inward one, the boundaries around the I—that first pretense of surety I had trusted to lead me through the poem like a leash—are made porous, and I, too, find myself dispersed, wild in the poem’s field.
– Claire Schwartz
Listen to Noah Baldino read "The Argument."
It took my friend a moment to recognize him; she thought it was a video of me. She said it’s his laugh—we still sound the same. I can’t hear myself, just the things that he said. Sure, he seems different. If he is, then I’m glad. But he can’t really change without making amends. I believe in forgiveness, so I can’t forgive him.