Poetry Friday: “Tenebrae” by Anya Krugovoy Silver

hospital-600x450This is a dark poem, raising a profound question about suffering. Its title, “Tenebrae,” is in fact the Latin word for “darkness”; and its setting is Holy Week, when we follow Jesus’ suffering and death. The poem’s first six lines paint in painful detail the immense suffering of a particular woman known to the poet. But the speaker’s tone is all: he says explicitly to God “I know that the bitterness is for her own good.” The words state pious assent, yet their tone undercuts simple acceptance of suffering as God’s will. The same complex tone carries through lines 7-8, beginning “Thank you, God for your wisdom that widows” (that is, creates widows by the death of their spouses). Then in the final four lines, the speaker begs to be spared God’s will. He’d rather be free from suffering, even if this leaves him ignorant of God’s wisdom. What I treasure about this poem is that it gives voice to my own fears of suffering. And implicitly it poses a stark question that makes us ponder: does God truly will our suffering? If so, what sort of God must this be?

— Peggy Rosenthal


“Tenebrae” by Anya Krugovoy Silver

Holy Wednesday

Lord, I know that the bitterness is for her own good.
Through the numbness that has made her quadriplegic,
she has drawn nearer to you, has been purged
as with bloodroot of whatever sins still grieved you.
Her pneumonia has sent her to hospice.
Her descent was rapid. She sleeps her morphine dreams.
Thank you, God, for your wisdom that widows,
for the orphans who continue to praise you.
But Lord, whom I love, close your eyes to me.
Pluck her soul from her tumor-choked body.
But spare me your will and secret knowledge.
Let me continue to live, ignorant and erring.

 

Anya Krugovoy Silver is the author of three books of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God, I Watched You Disappear, and From Nothing(all from Louisiana State). She was named Georgia Author of the Year in poetry for 2015. Recent poems have appeared in Harvard Review, Georgia Review, New Ohio Review, Saint Katherine Review, and Five Points. She teaches at Mercer University.

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“Translation Back into Native Tongues” by Nicholas Samaras

fire - Poetry FridayThere’s a sub-genre of poetry in which the speaker’s persona is a long-ago figure or a fictional character. Here, in “Translation Back into Native Tongues,” the speaker is John of Patmos, purported author of the biblical Book of Revelation. His subject in this poem is language, languages: always a perfect subject for poetry, that prime crafting of language. I like how the speaker longs for his childhood language but also hears language in the natural world: the “keening” of Patmos’s “olive-green wind”; the remembered language of birds. He hears even Jerusalem itself as a language. I feel myself wafted through the poem’s lines evoking various languages—until suddenly in the final stanza, I’m brought to a full stop. Here is a contrast I must pause over, ponder. Why is “metaphor” for God, while humans get what seems lesser—“simile”? Might it be that metaphor is open-ended, while simile (X is like Y) offers only a single, bounded comparison?

—Peggy Rosenthal


Translation Back into Native Tongues by Nicholas Samaras

Sometimes, I miss the Aramaic of youth.
Then, the personal flame came over us

and we spoke to the numb nations—
until the nations winnowed and muted us,

but not breaking the spirit of our speech.
Now, I live in the breeze’s murmur,

the native tongues to which the soul responds,
a language that comforts us where we are.

Here on Patmos, the olive-green wind
is tethliménos—bereaved, keening its dialect

over the lee. Sometimes, I miss the Aramaic,
the Hebrew, the language of birds

in my father’s courtyard.
My permanent sadness and permanent joy.

There will be new countries, a clarity of experience
only when you step out of it.

A clarity of Jerusalem found only on Patmos.
It is a language of gesture and longing.

Metaphor is for God.
Simile, for the extent of humans.

 

Nicholas Samaras’s newest book is American Psalm, World Psalm (Ashland). The poems published here are part of a new manuscript of poems in the voices of John of Patmos and his scribe, Prochoros. He is currently completing a memoir of his childhood in nine different countries.

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Richard Wilbur’s Poetry Captures Our Days

Minolta x-370

Last night I read a poem that showed me in a flash why I save evening-time for listening to classical music while I knit, or browsing through an art book, or reading fine poems like this one.

I’ve said in a previous post that I keep a volume of poems by my bed for evening reading. But I hadn’t known why until, with Richard Wilbur’s New and Collected Poems the current volume, I opened last night to his poem “C Minor.”

The poem begins with Wilbur and (presumably) his wife having breakfast while the radio plays something of Beethoven’s. Something passionate and angst-ridden; something typical of the C minor tonality which was Beethoven’s favorite for expressing dark, turbulent moods.

The poet’s wife turns off the radio. He writes: “You are right to switch it off and let the day / Begin at hazard…”

What follows for most of the poem is an account of some typical “hazards”—that is, chance happenings of a day.

The morning’s newspaper will present “sad / Or fortunate news.” Then:

The day’s work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)
[Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “In the Beginning Was the Word” by Jeanne Murray Walker

Sunlight on Beech leavesI can’t begin to count the number of poems which offer their language to re-imagining the Genesis creation story—maybe because poetry itself is an act of creation.  Jeanne Murray Walker’s creation narrative “In the Beginning Was the Word” (Image issue 85) plays exuberantly with language, as if in imitation of God’s exuberance in creating our world. Walker imagines a teasingly “tough” neighborhood that our planet settles into: all the elements enlivened by cosmic (and comic) emotions— “irate Mars,” “the kerfluff / of a moody moon.” Then Walker shifts her creative gaze to earth itself, as life sprouts in a wild disorder. Finally, human language itself “bursts” forth as “Creation thinking about itself”; and, yes, the creative force of our words is likened to God’s. One dark note clouds the poem’s closing line: all these words have the potential to be “dangerous.”

—Peggy Rosenthal


In the Beginning Was the Word by Jeanne Murray Walker

It was your hunch, this world. On the heyday
of creation, you called, Okay, go! and a ball
of white hot gasses spun its lonely way
for a million years, all spill and dangerous fall
until it settled into orbit. And a tough
neighborhood, it was, too. Irate Mars,
and sexually explicit Venus, the kerfluff
of a moody moon, and self-important stars.

And trees. Think of their endless rummaging
for light, their reckless greening, how flowering
is barely regulated damage. Then birds,
mice, sheep. Soon people, bursting into language.
Creation thinking about itself: our words soaring
like yours through time, dangerous, ordinary words.

 

Image above is by Miles Wolstenholme, licensed by Creative Commons.

Jeanne Murray Walker’s most recent books are Helping the Morning: New and Selected Poetry (Word Farm) and The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s (Hachette). She is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and teaches in the Seattle Pacific University MFA Program. Her website iswww.JeanneMurrayWalker.com.

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Poetry Friday: “Middle Distance, Morning” by Margaret Gibson

Fall LeavesI read this poem as a meditation on how one can relate to the outside world without needing to possess it. A poem on how to let go: to connect beyond oneself without clutching. Here, the outside world is that of nature, which the poem’s speaker recounts her relation to. Partly it’s a relation of hushed watching and listening, the discipline of “doing nothing” while yet “poised for a flash from the Absolute.” Partly it’s a graced sense of suspension, of being “blessed by uncertainty.” Partly it’s the recognition that her own imagination might be “a fling / of slim thread,” casting out over “the living world,” so that she’s unable to speak of this world without her  imagination’s aid. She settles on the “middle distance” as the right point for her imagination’s gaze, because at this distance she can comfortably see “the maple rising from its bright ground.” At this distance she needn’t worry whether or not there’s an “edge” further out, beyond her knowing. The speaker’s gratitude for this, and for living “in the midst of all my relations,” is confirmed by the calming iambic pentameter beat which steadies the poem’s opening and closing lines, each imaging autumn leaves in their own letting go: “spindling” or “spinning” in their own relaxed naturalness.

— Peggy Rosenthal


Middle Distance, Morning by Margaret Gibson

One by one leaves spindle in the wind,
the clock runs down, the cricket’s
chirr continues. Each year I try
to catch the moment the chirring ceases
and silence takes on its winter timbre.
Each year I miss. Doing nothing,
poised for a flash from the Absolute,
awaiting rest from unrest,
I’m blessed by uncertainty,
steadied more by loss than by the snare
of an embellished self-possession.
And no, I’m not lonely, No one, not
in the midst of all my relations,
as an old woman called the living world
around her, from quark to cairn,
from stone to a flash of wings
in the updraft. The grass is wet, and mist
rises wherever the sunlight falls.
The maple rising from its bright ground
in middle distance
is a shapely fluidity that anchors
a shining web to woodbine and one
branch of a yearling crabapple.
Perhaps imagination’s only a fling
of slim thread, so that Mind can walk
its own tightrope, also the heart—
in Chinese the word for mind
and the word for heart is the same.
Just now, the light shifts, and the web’s
no longer visible from where I sit.
Across the pond the woods are
a darkness, a depth, a distance
beyond the edge of knowing, I write.
But there is no edge
unless I make one. In middle distance,
a red leaf finds a way
to spin in its own orbit. Now, a gold.

 

Margaret Gibson is the author of eleven books of poetry and one prose memoir, most recently Broken Cup and Second Nature (both from Louisiana State). Her awards include the Lamont Selection for Poetry, the Melville Kane Award, the Connecticut Book Award in Poetry, and two Pushcarts. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and is professor emerita of the University of Connecticut.

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