Monday, January 6, 2014

poems for lunch: Dec. 19

Selective Service by Carolyn Forché (see also comments from Jan. 5)
Frankly by Naomi Shihab Nye
Surprises by Maxine Kumin
Ode to Repetition by Ellen Bass (see also comments from Jan. 5)
From A Timbered Choir, Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry

Perhaps the holiday season is a good time to take the image of printing snow angels
and transfer it to the cold facts of war, or Herod's response to a messiah. Published in 1981, "Selective Service" smacks of the Vietnam war, burning draft cards, and the slaughter of innocents. The idea of
an older generation speaking to the younger one, "learning fractions" at the time, cannot be dissolved in "the black and white collapse of hours". The image of fragments, the once-living packed in trash bags,
juxtaposed by the questions, "In what time do we live that it is too late/... to have children. In what place/ ... that we consider the various ways to leave.

Lighter in tone, "Frankly" answers what the living do. What is the greatest pleasure of life?
What purpose do we ascribe to our "work".

Kumin's "Surprises" starts out with teasing enjambments talking about failure and success with peppers, only to wind to a memory of a mother more interested in her roses than her child. Nothing/too small to remember, nothing too slight/to stand in awe of,

and then comes "her every washday///
and the final couplet, ending on the title, with every scrap stuffed in, just as in the poem.

Ellen Bass's Ode reminds me of Pablo Neruda's delightful odes to common things, except that repetition is not usually up for grabs on what to praise. And yet, surprisingly, we are led along from the image of the sea as perpetually changing, to the "fixed town"in your own life. Lamposts, parked cars are illumined by halos in the fog, rinsed by moonlight and then you realize indeed, one day we will not repeat the rise and shine -- and the ode turns into a love poem recognizing the bewilderment we feel,
when someone dear is gone, and we look out. Faultless stars, sounds like "vault" -- under which
hangs the last line where the by one, are effaced by day repeating, as if to honor the individual light, yet acknowledge the truth of the endless repeating.

The Wendell Berry excerpt picks up a bit of Frankly, as well as Ellen's Ode, the tasks lying, where they were left, asleep like cattle. What is afraid of me... what am I afraid of ... and then "mute in consternations" -- the quiet song... the stirring of the soul.

I had a little poem at the end remembering the sudden brightness that replaced my father's vacant stare in his old age -- how he could laugh without needing to understand the words.

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