by Gwendolyn Brooks
Stanza 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
- Here Brooks introduces the idea of a dream rising. We know from the first stanza that dreams are "giddy" and not strong. So maybe they're light as air and able to rise above the more practical things the poem has been talking about.
- Mmm, "Onion fumes" and "fried potatoes"—is anyone else getting hungry? Brooks introduces us to the physical world of this poem. Someone is cooking.
- These familiar cooking smells add to the picture of the routine, day-to-day stuff Brooks has touched on so far in the poem.
- Though we're able to imagine the smell of the onions and potatoes cooking, the dream is described as "white and violet," and that's a lot harder to imagine.
- So the dream seems like it might be kind of pretty (white and violet might make you think of the colors of flower petals). At least, the cleanliness of the white and the vibrant feel we get from something that's violet are way more appealing that all that gray nonsense in Stanza 1.
- Brooks poses an important question in this second stanza: is a dream able to rise above the day-to-day stuff without getting squashed by it? We hope so, but we have to read on.
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
- This is a continuation of the rhetorical question posed in line 4. The speaker asks: could a dream rise through the stink of garbage (another, very stinky, reality check)?
- Vocab alert: an "aria" is a kind of song, usually for an opera. When you think of opera you think of high culture—people in swanky dresses and tuxes—listening to powerfully beautiful music. Usually when you think of living in the slums, opera isn't the first thing to come to mind. So this creates a sharp juxtaposition in the poem between something beautiful and considered valuable in society with something ugly and difficult (life in the kitchenette building).
- The question develops: could the dream flutter up and sing amongst and over the racket of daily life? Or, again, would it be drowned out by the noise of the day-to-day (and the noise of everyone who lives in these cramped buildings)?
- The possibility of the dream being able to rise above the difficulties of daily life is a small glimpse of hope. If the dream is able to survive this, the speaker might be thinking, so can I. Our fingers are crossed as we head into Stanza 3.