Why We Chose It: "Elegy for Mr. Spock" by W. Todd Kaneko
August 16, 2018
Before writing this “Why We Chose It” piece about W. Todd Kaneko’s beautiful poem “Elegy for Mr. Spock,” I called my brother and asked him how he felt watching The Wrath of Khan for the first time and seeing Dr. Spock die. First, he corrected me. It’s not “Dr. Spock.” Dr. Spock is the baby doctor. Then, he said that he was surprised and very sad and didn’t believe they’d kill off such an important character. And, in fact, they didn’t. The explosion in The Wrath of Khan created a planet that had regenerative qualities, he told me, and in The Search for Spock, Mr. Spock comes back as a child.
Hilariously, I don’t remember any of that. All I remember is the death of Spock, the iconic image of him touching William Shatner’s hand against the glass before collapsing. I watched Star Trek piecemeal and only because my intelligent older brother loved it, not because I was smart enough to understand it. I watched it with him for the drama, for the women in sexy uniforms, for the interspecies romances. I watched it for the friendship, the happy endings, and the emotional satisfaction it offered me.
I find “Elegy for Mr. Spock” remarkable because it investigates, in such compact lines, the distinction between the logical and emotional, the difference between television and real life. This poem made me realize that television doesn’t prepare you for death; it prepares you for regenerations. Todd’s poem identifies the differences between wanting someone back and getting them back (television) and grieving your father’s death by writing poems about him only to know that death is permanent, that this loved one is irretrievable (reality). He writes, “On television / the phasers are set for stun because there’s / no such thing as death for major characters, / while on Earth, we offer our last goodbye / to the dead just once, and then say it again / every day for the rest of our lives.” Yes, grief is illogical, and yet, it is potent. It is infinite. We are always saying goodbye.
I love this poem because it doesn’t turn away from the abject reality of death, the aloneness we feel, the void into which we stare. I love this poem because it makes me weep. My brother tells me that Vulcans are hypersensitive, but in order to prevent the annihilation of the Vulcan race, they are only logical. They try to reject all emotion. How repressive, I think. Instead, I admire Todd’s acceptance of emotion, how in “Elegy for Mr. Spock,” he pushes on the bruise, he tells us something we try to forget, that this is all temporary, and that nothing makes complete sense.