Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Tent 7-23 LITTLE ELEGY

My all-time favorite poem will have to remain Dylan Thomas's FERN HILL.

But I want to share another: XJ Kennedy's LITTLE ELEGY (For a child who skipped rope).

I love this poem for its fantastic imagery. Every word means more than the word itself, and every image means something much deeper.

Remember how it felt, as a child, jumping rope until you were so tired you couldn't breathe? So, Elizabeth, this child, now lies resting, out of breath, out of turns. But this poem is an ELEGY. She is truly out of turns, and she will rest forever. Her quicksilver feet (and, really, aren't ALL of our feet quicksilver, our footing on this earth unsure, slippery?) didn't quite clear (and yes, we've ALL "missed," caught our foot on the edge of the rope as it whirred under us?) the whirring edge of night. Elizabeth was tripped by death.

And yes, earth, too, spins circles around us all. Like a jump rope. Time passes. The children grow, and mature, and age, and finally die. And eventually we will ALL "trip up." We are Elizabeth. Elizabeth is us. NO matter how lightly we skip, this turning earth will catch us!

Finally, when death himself becomes the "skipper," we pray: Lord, for Elizabeth's sake, for our sake, trip up death.

The poem is music. Imagery like this is rare. I cannot read this poem without feeling a catch in my throat,(the bell tolls for all of us). Maybe it's because I have attended the funerals of two dear friends this week and I am feeling very mortal. Orson Scott Card writes in his weekly column in today's issue of the Deseret News about poetry in general, about a specific poem he loves by Clinton Larsen, called Black Swans. I'm not going to discuss this poem, but want to note some of Card's feelings about it: "The mastery of it is also astonishing. It is like a complete course in lyric poetry contained in 13 lines. He speaks of "using words with multiple meanings in such a way as to use all the meanings at once." Most poets", he writes, "labor all their lives to be a part of the life and heart of everyone who hears or reads it."

XJ Kennedy does this, in 10 lines. Please look it up!

My poem, an old one this time. But I hoped to use words and images with multiple meanings, and like every poet, I want the poem to resonate in the heart and life of those who read it. 24 lines.


Your see-through faces have
run together like watercolor
on oatmeal pages
all my lovers buried alive

I never said goodbye
never knew how
I stored you up instead
in this cluttered attic

inside my head, in a
brown box rough with dust
and tied with barbed wire
for ribbons

one bound creature
of several shadowed hearts
and many limbs
all your vanished words

your brown eyes or blue eyes
all of you locked
like a bunch

of mad or hunchbacked uncles
hidden away
who grind their teeth
in my sleep

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Kashawing (Big Tent: Love's Old Tweet Song)


And so,
this pale son of Scottish kings and
ice-white English princes,
a guest among these island terraces and palms
ringed by Sumatra, West Java, Singapore...
has touched the brown daughter
of Silang and Rizel, of
Filipino sampaguita peddlers and tuba traders.
He, on this side, is the jewelled blue Pacific.
She, on the other side, the dark
rolling dunes of the Philippine Sea.

And, having made
a true and everlasting Kashawing,
he has loosened his knotted tie.
She has taken the gold pins
from her long hair.
In the heat-waves of fiesta at noon-day,
there, in the music of bandurrias,
their feet are off-balance from
the sudden shock of the collision
of east and west. Her island-black eyes
reflected in his English-blue eyes
are wider and deeper now,
glowing with light, like all
the houses on Bagumbayan Pequeno Street.

And everything is moving there
on the horizon,
blue on blue,
both of them transformed,
she by his cool European ice, and he,
by her bright island birds.

* Kashawing: a promise to the Gods

(Happy Tenth Anniversary, Marc and Grace!)