Poetry Friday: “Quantum Theory” by Victoria Kelly

Room, Christ iconsA friend said to me once, if time were flat, if everything were always happening forever concurrently (this is very hard to imagine), then all the versions of us throughout the years would be something like flip-book animation: everything drawn out already on every page, only seeming to dance or shuffle due to a trick of perspective. This is about as far as my understanding of quantum theory goes. Victoria Kelly proposes a similar thought experiment in her poem “Quantum Theory,” collapsing the past and present of her family history into a handful of “moments that go on forever— / somewhere else, on another plane.” Whether or not this is literally true, it strikes me as a common experience; it’s the way I feel that memory works. It’s the way we seem to grapple with trauma (always forever concurrently with the present), as if the darkest things that have happened to us exist even on our sunniest days. What’s surprising in this poem is that Kelly points the concept away from trauma and toward awe. I am slow to remember when I have been awed, when I have had faith in anything. I am easily convinced by every version of me that is lacking—who has been wronged and has wronged others—that the state of things is like “the sun…going down.” Yet if it were true that all the people I have been are still with me somehow, right now, then the version of me who believes, he is real—he is always, forever, concurrently, really here.

Tyler McCabe


Quantum Theory by Victoria Kelly

Fifty years ago, in Catholic school,
a nun gave my mother a ribbon
said to have been touched by a saint.
This was when her brother was still alive,
and masses were still read in Latin,
and people still wandered across the street
to other people’s houses in the evening.

Now the school is coming down, and, six blocks away,
my grandmother forgets to brush her teeth.
The years are upon her, but they say
there are moments that go on forever—
somewhere else, on another plane.
If it is true
I wonder if somewhere out there
my mother is still being given that ribbon,
and my uncle is waiting for her in the hallway
with his coat slung over his shoulder.
The sun is going down.
They are about to walk home,
and neither of them knows yet
about the cancer, or the English masses,
or the war that is looming.
She is going to show him the ribbon
and they will believe it is real.

 

Victoria Kelly received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and her M.Phil. in creative writing from Trinity College, Dublin, where she was a United States Mitchell Scholar. Her poetry has appeared in Southwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Prairie Schooner, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2013. She teaches creative writing at Old Dominion 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: “The Manifestation” by Richard Jones

Starlit homeI’m a poet and believer. If anyone should spend an evening gazing at a meteor shower, it should be me: dreamer, connector. Hidden under the fingernails of God.

But those Zone 5A clouds seem ever near in August, when the air thickens with cicada song. And to be honest, I’m relieved. The day’s tasks of laundry and writing and breaking up children’s fights is enough to make me collapse in bed or at least loll in front of the flickering lights of Netflix for an hour or so. Knowing it’s too cloudy or late to see the Perseids (must be on time to church!) earns me the right to be lazy of awe.

But Richard Jones’s poem, “Manifestation,” wakes me up.

The speaker insists on abiding with  “glory beyond measure,” even in the late hour and thick fog. Even at the point of despair. But it’s the last three lines I read over and over, the reminder of the mundane wonder that burns every night, at least until it’s extinguished.

Tania Runyan


“The Manifestation” by Richard Jones

The night of the Perseid shower,
thick fog descended
but I would not be denied.
I had put the children to bed,
knelt with them,
and later
in the quiet kitchen
as tall red candles
burned on the table between us,
I’d listened to my wife’s sweet imprecations,
her entreaties to see a physician.
But at the peak hour—
after she had gone to bed,
and neighboring houses
stood solemn and dark—
I felt no human obligation
and went without hope into the yard.
In the white mist
beneath the soaked and dripping trees,
I lifted my eyes
into a blind nothingness of sky
and shivered in a white robe.
I couldn’t see the outline
of the neighbor’s willows,
much less the host of streaking meteorites
no bigger than grains of sand
blazing across the sky.
I questioned the mind, my troubled thinking,
and chided myself to go in,
but looking up,
I thought of the earth
on which I stood,
my own
scanty plot of ground,
and as the lights passed unseen
I imagined glory beyond all measure.
Then I turned to the lights in the windows—
the children’s nightlights,
and my wife’s reading lamp, still burning.

 

Image above is by Brandon Atkinson, licensed by Creative Commons.

Richard Jones is the author of seven books of poems, including Apropos of Nothing, The Blessing, and The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning, all from Copper Canyon Press. Editor of the literary journal Poetry East, he is a professor of English at DePaul University in Chicago.

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Impounded by Poetry

By Cathy Warner

Salmon LeapingAfter one glass of wine, one poetry reading, and two hours, my bill totaled $452.21, and I hadn’t even bought Paul Nelson’s book.

At least the tow truck driver was apologetic. “I waited as long as I could before I hooked up your car. I just got here ten minutes before you.”

I could tell he thought the sort of person who drove a fifteen-year-old minivan with a Coexist bumper sticker was the sort of person who’d only park in a posted We Tow Unauthorized Vehicles lot in an emergency. So he had dawdled, waiting for me to come running, shouting “wait!” offering a profuse apology and compelling excuse (a flight, a funeral, brain surgery), whereupon he could issue a warning and return to his dinner.

But there I was, a willful and flagrant violator, who’d parked her car at 7 p.m., and hadn’t returned until nine.

My excuse was flimsy: I was late; the restaurant lot and street parking were full; I didn’t know where else to park. [Read more…]


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