I’ve been away so long! Been tending a few other fireplaces, to wit, I’ve got two books coming out in the fall; also changes in husband’s work has given me more time alone with my kids, now seven and eight, which, of course, leaves less time alone with words. To be scathingly honest it might be truer to say I simply couldn’t get my blogging fire lit of late, but look now, I’ve got a spark and some tinder, and hope for smoke.
My idea is to return to the blog but with a new focus: poems I love by contemporary poets. In the past I wrote mostly about the greats of our common canon, especially Bishop, Plath, O’Hara, Dickinson, Milton, Yates, Shakespeare, Donne, Eliot, Auden, Wordsworth, Keats, Stevens, Blake, well, you get the type. Now I’ll be offering poems by the living and wonderful. We start with this intense little fascination by Cate Marvin, author of the terrific books World’s Tallest Disaster and Fragment of the Head of a Queen, both with Sarabande.
Why I Am Afraid of Turning the Page
Spokes, spooks: your tinsel hair weaves the wheel
that streams through my dreams of battle. Another
apocalypse, and your weird blondeness cycling in
and out of the march: down in a bunker, we hunker,
can hear the boots from miles off clop. We tend to
our flowers in the meantime. And in the meantime,
a daughter is born. She begins as a mere inch, lost
in the folds of a sheet; it's horror to lose her before
she's yet born. Night nurses embody the darkness.
Only your brain remains, floating in a jar that sits
in a lab far off, some place away, and terribly far.
Your skull no longer exists, its ash has been lifted
to wind from a mountain's top by brothers, friends.
I am no friend. According to them. Accordion, the
child pulls its witching wind between its opposite
handles: the lungs of the thing grieve, and that is
its noise. She writhes the floor in tantrum. When
you climbed the sides of the house spider-wise to
let yourself in, unlocked the front door, let me in
to climb up into your attic the last time I saw you
that infected cat rubbed its face against my hand.
Wanting to keep it. No, you said. We are friends.
I wear my green jacket with the furred hood. You
pushed me against chain-length. Today is the day
that the planet circles the night we began. A child
is born. Night nurses coagulate her glassed-in crib.
Your organs, distant, still float the darkness of jars.
- Cate Marvin
There’s a deep drumbeat, heartbeat, that jogs us down the midnight hallways of this poem. Or is it only the gloaming, night not yet come fully down? There are secrets here, but also confidences rendered, something terrifying yet also the glory of birth, possibilities of life and the awful proximity of death.
"I am no friend. According to them. Accordion,…"
The poem pushes and pulls, accordions, it runs and is rocked to a stop by a chain length, it is intimate but lonely, feels full of regret. If I read it twice I feel less abandoned, less the lark rising of a heart at horror and harmed, alone.
This has been a hard week for the country, the Boston Marathon bombing breaking our collective lungs and leaving us stunning with weary strength. Some people on facebonk, as I like to call it, have said it’s wrong to reel from a crime so common in the world, but I say, then you’ve never been near one, because when you’re near one it hurts like hell. You trauma. You burst. When 9/11 happened I was writing Doubt: A History and I was writing on doubt in the world of the Ancient Jews, and just up to crafting the section on the destruction of the Temple. When I started writing I didn’t know a thing about why that event scarred the people of the Temple so badly, broke their belonging, turned them into the people of the book. After our local disaster (I was writing in the East Village, only neighborhoods away), I knew way too much. It howls you. It hollows your head.
I offer this poem now because I’d been thinking of leading with it for a few days, and given the circumstances felt it was best to keep with what poetry does for readers of poetry, not always to stir us to filmic emotions, but instead to take us into the self and into the self of others, looking around with a flickering flame and finding our way through the strange, strained dream that is living.
Gracious it’s nice being back. I've missed you. Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.