Why We Chose It: “Disclaimer,” by Chris Jansen

Off the bat, the head note sets the mood for the repetition of ‘not responsible’ that follows,“Sign on the back of a gravel truck: NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR BROKEN WINDSHIELDS.” Gravel trucks or dump trucks often have signs stating a disclaimer to stay back and drivers who overlook this warning could end up with cracked windshields from gravel bits and small rocks that rebound off of hard surfaces. This reference is a unique way of saying something without explicitly saying that when danger is ahead it’s best to be cautious.

This poem has an admirable flow and showcases the writer’s skills in transitioning from one topic to another that the average person wouldn’t expect to connect. The lines, “Not responsible for you don’t love me anymore. Not responsible for I don’t like you like that” sound a lot more personal than “Not responsible for the Gulf of Tonkin, the Bonus Army, the Gettysburg dead, that misadventure in Iraq.” However, these broad topics connect and give the poem a tone of reassurance. I interpreted the personal lines as the writer speaking to himself and stating that the rejection he received from his love interests aren’t his fault. He goes on and expands to larger situations that have affected the world, that weren’t his fault either.

As the poem continues, the topics go from negative connotations to positive ones. I thoroughly enjoyed that this poem was continually changing and shifting my understanding of the content. Rather than focusing on one topic and expanding within it, this poem did the opposite and expanded outward from the topic of not having responsibility which held my attention from beginning to end. The beginning of the poem is negative and makes the writer sound as if he’s discharging himself from responsibility of his actions. The lines,”Not responsible for unpaid bills, not responsible for late fees” has a duality as to whose fault it is. On one hand you can be seen as irresponsible or unorganized for not paying bills, but on the other hand, what if you don’t have the money to pay those bills? Whose fault is that? There’s always a chain of events that lead to a massive one and that’s especially true when trying to blame someone. The middle of the poem is neither negative or positive, it simply is. The images of a sagging rooftop of an old farmhouse or of the moon, gravid and sick, can be seen as negative images, but for me they’re both markers of time and age. Time and age come with change and that is no one’s responsibility. What I like most about this poem and its rejection of responsibility is it offers no excuses. It doesn’t point blame to anyone or anything. Nearing the end of the poem, Jansen writes,”Not responsible for the majesty of the Hubble Deep Space Field, nor for the millions of tiny galaxies:” space was no person’s creation and nobody has responsibility over it. The refusal of responsibility of something so vast and mysterious is freeing. Which is exactly what this poem is.

Karina Ruiz is a junior at The Chicago High School for the Arts and an editor on the poetry team.

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