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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Poetry Friday: “The Moss Method” by Pattiann Rogers

MossI’ve long loved Pattiann Rogers’ poems: how they caress nature’s most minute details with acutely attentive language. Here, in “The Moss Method,” she focuses on one of nature’s most lowly living things: moss. The poem is a paean to moss’s inconspicuous virtues: its literal lowliness, its quiet power of softening sharp edges, its luscious mats laid out for our pleasure. Rogers’ alliteration throughout enacts moss’s own softness, as words glide over each other: moss can “sooth… stones / with frothy leaf by leaf of gray-green life”; can “salve / sidewalk cracks, crumbling walls”; “cling to cliff seeps beneath / spilling springs.” Then in the closing stanza, the poem broadens its focus, leaving the minutiae of moss’s virtues to gaze way beyond, where moss’s “ministries” give hope to our rocky world, which scatters souls adrift “like spores.”

—Peggy Rosenthal


The Moss Method by Pattiann Rogers

Most lie low, flourishing with damp,
harvesting sunlight, no commotion, moss
mouse-silent, even through wind and hail,
stoic through motors roaring fumes,
through fat-clawed bears grubbing.

They can soothe the knife-edges of stones
with frothy leaf by leaf of gray-green life,
and burned-ground mosses cover destruction,
charred stumps, trees felled and blackened.
Cosmopolitan mosses likewise salve
sidewalk cracks, crumbling walls.

They root in thin alpine air, on sedentary
sand dunes, cling to cliff seeps beneath
spilling springs. For rest, they make mats
on streamside banks, for pleasure produce silky
tufts, wavy brooms of themselves in woodlands
for beauty, red roof moss for whim, elf
cap, hair cap, sphagnum for nurturing.

No fossil record of note, no bone
history, so lenient they possess only
those memories remembered.

I believe they could comfort the world
with their ministries. That is my hope,
even though this world be a jagged rock,
even though this rock be an icy berg of blue
or a mirage of summer misunderstood
(moss balm for misunderstanding),
even though this world be blind and awry
and adrift, scattering souls like spores
through the deep of a starlit sea.

 

Pattiann Rogers has published fourteen books, most recently Holy Heathen Rhapsody (Penguin). She is the recipient of two NEA Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize anthology, Best American Poetry, and Best Spiritual Writing. Her papers are archived in the Sowell Collection at Texas Tech University.

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Poetry Friday: “When God Dreamed Eve through Adam” by Richard Chess

Adam-and-eve-by-Antonio-Molinari-1701-1704The Genesis story of the creation of Adam and Eve: poets for centuries have been attracted to it. They wonder: what was in God’s mind? In Adam’s? In Eve’s? Poets wonder and re-envision the scene. Richard Chess, in “When God Dreamed Eve through Adam” (Image #85), chooses to stay in Adam’s mind—and chooses to craft most of the poem as a long subordinate clause. The eight stanzas that hold us in suspension in this extended “when”-clause imagine Adam’s complex of emotions at his first sight of Eve. Then finally Adam crashes down into the grammar’s main clause, into a fear and terror “which he couldn’t tell from wonder”: the recognition of his and Eve’s profound “difference.” Now suddenly Adam, alarmed, sees everything in the world tossing up its “difference.” This, the poem suggests, is the free will that God gives us: will we let our differences become disastrous, destructive? Or will we enable them to “grow” as God dreamed they could?

—Peggy Rosenthal


When God Dreamed Eve through Adam by Richard Chess

When Adam saw her, muscle of a new day,
when he squatted to smell the musk
between her legs, when he leaned down

To grasp the wrist of the most familiar
creature he’d encountered yet, to pull
himself, the mirror image of himself, to her feet;

When he took a few steps back
to appraise her with the mind of sun,
the heart of moon, to praise her

With the applause of leaves bestirred,
to seduce her with the iridescence
of lizard skin, to navigate into the current of her

And be powered and transported like a fish
through a diaphanous river’s shadow and light,
to know her with every cell, every molecule, all

The atoms and elements that spun into his inception—
with all creation pulsing
in his temples, his wrist, with his unique

Talent, endowed in him by his creator, to see
beyond the moment’s garden
all the way into the geneticist’s lab,

When he stood back from her
suddenly he understood the world
would never culminate nor close with him

And he was frightened, the first, the original
terror which he couldn’t tell from wonder
as he stood there regarding what was made

Of the same stuff as he yet utterly strange—
how the world around him even then
was tossing up difference after difference,

Until maybe even they’d be tossed aside
should this new allowance for difference
not grow the way god dreamed it would

When god dreamed Eve through Adam into being.

 

Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

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Poetry Friday: “The Grackles” by Betsy Sholl

Poetry Friday Grackles Poem BigHere is a poem that silently enacts a conversion.  The poem starts off with a string of scornful terms for the speaker’s new neighbors, culminating in the almost mean pun on their child’s “grin” as “grim.” But right after this, the speaker begins to soften her terms: she notices a “warmth” in this noisy, dirty, low-class family. Then by the start of the fourth stanza, a switch in point of view has occurred: the speaker sees herself through their eyes. So when the poem’s title image enters (in the inner-rhymed “racket grackles”), the poet intentionally leaves ambiguous whether it’s the speaker or the previously demeaned family who are the bullying grackles. Whoever they are becomes irrelevant, though, in the poem’s closing lines, which focus on the birds themselves. As the sunlight strikes them, the speaker’s previously negative terms for them turn glowingly positive: “they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.” The poem is ultimately suggesting here that whomever or whatever we demean will—when seen in a new light— shine with this richly full gleam.

—Peggy Rosenthal


The Grackles by Betsy Sholl

Down the block, our new neighbors, not unlike
the old, could be named the Grackles, given
the way everything they have is loud: cars,
children, stereos, parties. It all spills out
into the street—broken bikes, pizza boxes,
a nasty looking dog with nothing to restrain it

but the owner’s curse. Giving the mutt wide berth,
stepping around a rusty bike rim, I glance
at the weary-looking man, the angry woman,
sullen teen, younger girl with a smudged grin.
Grim, it seems. But there’s a warmth here, too,
the father teaching his son to make the car

loud by tweaking something on the exhaust,
as the mother spit-washes the baby’s face,
laughs through smoke and sunken eyes
at her barefoot daughter’s new skip rope trick.
When the son grabs the dog’s collar—sorry
the stupid pooch frightened me—I watch him

slowly size up my jog-reddened face,
amused disdain on his for the type I am,
flitting around the block in ragged sweats
as if life’s a matter of tips from slick
magazines. Such a racket grackles make,
like castanets, scolding the song birds

they’ve chased up into the trees, giving them
flack for not even trying to bully back. Now
the sun flashes on them its brightest beam,
so it’s clear from light’s point of view,
however drab they may look in the shade
they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.

 

Betsy Sholl’s most recent book of poems is Otherwise Unseeable (Wisconsin). She teaches in the MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and was poet laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.

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