Poetry Friday: “The Embrace”

piano-by-Ralf-Nolte-on-flickrPoetry can recall us to the sensuousness of ordinary experience. Elizabeth Smither does this in “The Embrace” through the pointed choice of particular details. We are invited into a room in which almost nothing is happening, yet the room fills with sumptuously imaged life: two pianos which seem to be playing (though literally they’re not); two people leaning joyously into each other; a meal appearing in all its lusciously itemized dishes. All of this takes place in only two sentences—for it’s in the dashes that Smither makes the poem work. Each pair of dashes holds within it an instant of event, while holding still the surrounding objects. What these dashes manage to do, I’d say, is hold aloft the simultaneity of music and meal and human embrace. The poem leaves me feeling richer, yet also wondering what rich details I’m missing in each moment of my own experience.

-Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “I Am Poured Out Like Water”

6712511817_1621527225_zWhat attracts me to this poem is something deliberately absent yet evocatively present: baptism in a river. Starting from the very first line—during monastic prayer, the speaker’s mis-chanting “Lord’s forever” as “Lord’s river”—rivers are central to each vignette. There’s the creek where, as a kid, the speaker “took a girl down to the river to play—not pray”: that teasing echo of the song about river baptism. There’s the deer he then killed, stumbling “toward the Smith River”: its death “brought the Lord by the water.” There’s the speaker and his Dad fly-fishing, with the memory of his Dad as close to “a saint.” And finally, there’s the barge breaking up ice on the Hudson River outside the monastery as Matins is chanted. All these river images bring us close to the sanctifying water of baptism—close, but not quite there. Yet in a marvelously mysterious way, our baptism into Christ’s life and death is at the poem’s core.

-Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 3

8407335830_6cda2c94c5_zContinued from yesterday and Tuesday.

In Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape, David Hinton observes, “We tend to ignore the disappearing, the forgetfulness, but all day long, day in and day out, forgetfulness keeps us woven into dragon’s traceless transformations.”

The dragon, he explained earlier, is “China’s mythological embodiment of all creation and all destruction, the ten thousand hunger-driven things tumbling through their traceless transformations.

“Self, that center of identity,” Hinton continues, “is a denial of dragon and the empirical reality it represents: the generative female structure of consciousness and Cosmos. It is a denial of forgetfulness and of our actual moment-to-moment experience. That denial is part of dragon, of course, but it is dragon’s blindness to itself. And as the defining structure of the center, language is the medium of that blindness. It too is a denial of forgetfulness and Absence and the generative nature of things.” [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 2

12798592043_af6641e703_zContinued from yesterday. 

I dive into the pool. My body remembers water. My body remembers how to swim. My arm swings overhead, my arm follows through, my hand plunges into the water, pushing water, propelling my body forward down the lane.

It seems to happen naturally, automatically. I don’t need to think to swim. I don’t need to remember how to swim, what to do next with my arm, my legs, my breathing.

Even when I try, I can’t catch the intention, if there is an intention, that precedes stroke, stroke, flutter-kick. “I” don’t swim. I am swimming.

I think I learned to swim when I was around five. I don’t remember exactly when. I’m pretty sure I learned in Aunt Cis and Uncle Gene’s pool, luxury behind their home in Cheviot Hills, West L.A. I remember Cheviot Hills. I remember the pool. [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 1

4023219337_acef69b314_z (1)I remember my social security number.

I remember the combination to a lock—13 right, 27 left, 5 right—that rusted beyond use some years ago. How many years? I don’t remember. But I remember this: it was two locks ago.

I remember the name of the city in which I was born. I remember the name of my elementary school. Turns out that this information is useful beyond merely contributing to my still unfolding (fortunately) personal story. City in which I was born, name of my elementary school: answers to a website’s security questions.

I remember Shabbat dinner at the Jerusalem home of Edna and her husband and their son, who was home for the weekend during his mandatory period of service in the Israeli Defense Forces. [Read more…]


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