Poetry Friday: “Sewing Box”

Painting of a Girl sitting in front of a sewing machine facing a window that lets in slats of light on the girl and the burnt orange walls.We don’t think enough—or at least I don’t—about how objects can contain memory. But Murray Bodo’s poem “Sewing Box” shows us how: in this box in which memory is literally contained. Each of the four stanza takes us deeper into the box. At first it’s just “the busy / sewing box I’d organize on visits home.” So it’s a box, we guess, that belonged to the speaker’s mother. In the second stanza, it becomes “a memory chest,” as the speaker recalls his mother’s using it “to mend socks and hearts” after a hard day’s work. At the start of stanza three, the box becomes (alarmingly) “a sepulcher”; evidently the mother has died, and the box remains untouched between the speaker’s visits home, its “spools of thread, / buttons, thimbles, needles, and pins” all “stilled.” Then the final stanza heralds an unexpected discovery: “This year I found a hidden drawer / not noticed before…” The speaker finds in the drawer long-ago objects, including a needle-holder that he “made / for you in fourth grade.” But then the drawer reveals even more unexpected contents: holy cards and other religious aids to prayer. With these, which ends the poem, I see the box sacralized—as at the same time, the entire history of the speaker’s relation to his mother is sacralized as well.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Boyhood and the Incarnation of Time

boyhood_stillThe hardest part of watching Boyhood for me wasn’t the film itself but going back to the main menu. You’ve just been immersed in this family’s life for twelve years, and now suddenly you see select moments of that life assembled together in a collage of stills as that soft, wistful song, “Hero,” plays:

So let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
I just wanna fight like everyone else.

And the emotion finally hits me. The visceral sensation of time having passed. How much you miss, and yet how much becomes a part of you, nonetheless. [Read more…]

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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Odd Northern Indiana

Michigan DunesRoute 41 takes you along the coast of Lake Michigan out of Chicago. If you are trying to stay close to the lake, then veer off Route 41 at Whiting and tack southeast onto Route 20. That’s where the landscape takes a turn toward oddness.

You’re between Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana. Those excited by intellectually fashionable terms would call this area a “liminal space.” It is a hazy, indeterminate quasi-urban wasteland shot through with train tracks and industrial properties, some functioning and some long ago abandoned to the elements, steel and iron rusting slowly as the wind and the sun and the rain do their work, season upon season.

There are people here. They live in pocketed neighborhoods squished between fields of gasoline silos, generating plants, and graveyards for dead and dying railroad cars, old trucks, unidentifiable machines sinking inch-by-inch into the earth. [Read more…]

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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