Poetry Friday: “When God Dreamed Eve through Adam”

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

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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Annie Spans the Gap, Part 2

This editorial statement from issue 88 is continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

In 1994, Image was in its infancy, and I was living in Wichita and working with the Milton Center, a nonprofit devoted to fostering excellence in creative writing by people of religious faith. Thanks to a major grant, we were able to put on a conference, the highlight of which was giving an award to Annie Dillard. We chose as a theme the phrase “Spanning the Gap,” taken from Holy the Firm and included in the epigraph in yesterday’s post. We wanted to explore the way writing itself might span the gap between here and eternity.

I was assigned the task of introducing her, which more or less scared the hooey out of me. I had only read a few scattered pieces of hers, and the only full book I was able to read in preparation was Holy the Firm, because it is so short.

I remember very little about the introduction, except that I described her as “a nature writer on speed.” What I lacked in insight I tried to make up in verve. Her reading was of course electrifying as she paced back and forth, declaiming from one book or another. The audience was pleased. [Read more…]

Caution: National Poetry Month

Aesthetic LightHow do you know if it’s a poem?

Maybe it’s a month, a month-at-a-glance, many days lined with appointments to exchange energy in cells, rows, examination rooms, fields with clients, colleagues, patients, classmates. But, ah, a few blank, spacious days.

Maybe it’s an old-fashioned phone book, the white pages with everything you need to call (or recall) a distant cousin, a local star, a first kiss.

Maybe it’s pre-op, the nurse anesthetist, a tree of life, trying to comfort you. Oh lazy kabbalist, your left eye dull, no divine emanation to be found there, not even when your daughter, holding your hand while fluid drips into your vein, looks deeply, lovingly to draw forth the hidden light.

The last dark poem you loved, the poem you wanted to love you back and live with you under a bridge: how did you know it was a poem and not a prescription for despair?

It’s been so long since you visited Uncle A for breakfast, the elegant table, a grapefruit half glistening with sugar crystals before you. How is your Jewish detective novel coming along, you ask him? Are you disappointed with heaven, or is it hell or somewhere in between? I don’t know the day of your yahrzeit, you tell him, or I would say Kaddish for you, you lie. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Grackles”

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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Finding Another World in Winterkill

Winterkill by Todd DavisThere is another world, but it is in this one.” —William Butler Yeats

Reading Yeats’s line, I think vaguely incarnational thoughts: heaven enters earth with Christ’s Incarnation; God dwells within our world, not separated from it; and so on. I believe these statements. Yet these formulations give me nothing to grasp onto, nothing to engage my imagination.

How astonishingly rich, though, the other world “in this one” becomes in Todd Davis’s latest collection of poems, Winterkill, which takes Yeats’s line as its epigraph. For Davis, “this world” is the world of nature—particularly the mountainous woods, streams, and wildlife around his longtime central Pennsylvania home.

From what I’ve just said, you might think: oh, so his poems are about nature. But, no: something much more enlivening is going on in Davis’s poetry. He doesn’t write about nature; rather, he writes from deep within nature. The natural world is his ambiance: he so immerses himself in it that he breathes it, he prays it, he caresses each minute detail of it with his eyes and hands, his heart, his soul, his language. From within nature, life’s meanings speak to him.

Take fish and the water they live in. Davis spends a lot of time in these poems fishing. And sometimes it seems as if he catches fish specifically in order to handle them with delicate awe: to trace their wonders with his fingers and words. [Read more…]


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