Poetry Friday: “Bewilder”

Beluga whales swimming in a bluish cave with light illuminating them in the ocean.This is a poem about scale, about the awesome power of the Creator, who in turn gave humanity the power to create. And it’s about the power of a created being, and its potential to do good or evil. Here we have a whale sighting, her powerful fluke useable for constructive or destructive acts—“so many gestures// a fluke or fin can make with or/ without ruin.” Over time, the Leviathan has stood for evil of various kinds. Yet the bulk of the poem celebrates the whale’s beauty without romanticizing or anthropomorphizing. Indeed, it makes deliberate strides against that temptation, admonishing: “her eye deeply/winking at my eye, no more/ human for that.” The poem affirms, if for no one else than for the speaker, that the whale was made for her own good purpose, for God’s own good purpose, “to sing… for enchantment and for love.” The mystery of creation rises into view, immense, blinking its wild eye, and then disappears again, leaving our hearts pounding. Leaving us feeling more alive, as any good poem— creation—ought to. 

—Melissa Reeser Poulin


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Poetry Friday: “Advent”

Watts, George Frederic; After the Deluge; Watts Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/after-the-deluge-13387

Of course you’ve heard of “El Niño.” And you know that it refers to the Pacific Ocean’s warming spells, which can cause heavy rains and even cyclones in the tropics. But did you know that El Niño (Spanish for “the boy”) is so named because it occurs around Christmas time? And did you know that there’s a sister phenomenon, “La Niña”—a cooling ocean effect that also causes major climate events? In her poem “Advent,” Ava Leavell Haymon takes these climatological facts and brilliantly conflates them with the coming of the Child which we await during the Advent season. “El Niño crawls in the manger, time runs out / El  Niño rocks himself dry on the edge of a continent.” Then “the weather channel shows us rain / Angels proclaim in vain…” This Boy’s coming will not evoke the sweet sentiments of Christmas cards. No, it brings cosmological turbulence: ”Comets snuff out in dirty skies: Lovers of chaos, / computers roll back their zero eyes  The trumpet cries…” We pray to Los Niños to “spare us,” but their answer— “We have come for the children” — has a sinister undercurrent. That “for” is intentionally ambiguous. It could mean “for the sake of,” which is the usual Christmas message. But “come for” could also mean “to take the children away,” which a killing cyclone will certainly do. Here is a poem that makes us think twice (or three times or more) about what Advent brings.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

The Ghosts of Home

natalie-vestin-drive-imageWhen I visit my family in northern Minnesota, I find myself on the same roads I’ve known—back and forth—since I was a child. Often I ride with others because I can’t orient, even in my small town and the outskirts made of barely-there townships and roads that veer only toward themselves. I think of small pathways on Midway Road, and I look for the town hall, for the church, for the dilapidated gray house with scorch marks at the roof. The churning root beer float of the St. Louis River to the south.

I gave up my car last year, though I still love the way the air and light changes on a drive, the way that movement and change of scene feels like prayer. Like close prayer, as if God is in the ditch or the jack pines, a new side of God available when you move a certain way or enter a different terrain. [Read more…]

The Neglected Garden, Part II

14374480496_991ff96353_zContinued from yesterday.

The dollhouse my father was building for me was still unfinished when he draped a boat tarpaulin over the top, to protect it against the summer rain. The doctor had told my parents that there was a tumor in his lung. He was being sent to the M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, along with my mother.

My oldest, married, sister was coming home to take care of me temporarily, along with my 22-year-older brother, who had bottomed out back home after a period of college-dropout wandering. Together, they cobbled together a backyard party for my eighth birthday, and in the now-faded, garish color of the Kodachrome prints, the unfinished, covered dollhouse is visible.

Four months later, my father was dead. It was the coldest winter there had been in my lifetime. For the first time, a crust of sugar snow dusted the brown pecan leaves that had scattered, unraked, across the yard. [Read more…]

The Neglected Garden, Part I

6362028091_2d4a7eb81a_zWhen my father built the house where I was born, the land was flat and there was little vegetation on it.

It had once been the Curran family’s cotton plantation, my mother later told me—sold and subdivided for a row of little Cape Cods and ranch houses, all arrayed in pastel asbestos siding. Including the one that, in late 1954, became my family’s home.

I was born in 1968.

There were no trees, I see in the silent drone of 36 millimeter “home movies” my father shot during the bright summers of the middle 1950s—ten years before I was born. It surprised me as a child, but shouldn’t have: The town where we lived was on the very seam of the Mississippi Delta, where wooded hills careened suddenly downward to hit flat land for a hundred miles. [Read more…]