At the Farm
I was sitting in the car counting the black flies
They had come in through the open window
There were four
One was on the rearview mirror
The other three were perched on my left hand
I heard a gunshot by the barn and thought nothing of it
We were at a farm
I saw a cow come charging forward with half its head gone
A man with an axe came running behind it
He hit it once
Once he hit it
And it fell to the ground
Everything was eaten
Its eye appeared in a soup that night
Everything was accounted for
The Arabic word for light
Two circles sit side by side
Twins, equal in size and shape and the space they both contain
They had been made to be like each other
Up there, one contains all light
Kept at a distance, as far away as a lost love, a hope long past, an apology
that changes nothing
The other by its proximity seems only to have light, a compass for
the sun, a backseat to, a smaller sidekick
On this sheet of paper, these two circles look to be the same, as close in
likeness as they could ever be
Stripped of light, one is like the other, as small, as equal, as alone
The houses rise up overnight,
brushing over fields of dandelions,
soon to be grey fluff.
It seems the swans
don't know yet.
The reservoir now a parking lot,
row upon row of outlines of white.
Ever loyal to daylight and rain
but never quite knowing how hard the storm,
soaked and stooped,
they keep their manners
in all of this. They still come out, preened,
their long white necks bending,
a curtain call, a curtsy,
bending and bowing down,
bowing down, down low for bits of that sun.
The real hour of the day is not known
The sky is blue-grey
The snow is flat in these fields
Bare trees line themselves along the horizon like shards from black glass
The sun, if it will rise today, will begin on the left
Every shape of cloud has been here once
In an hour, the buildings will be the first to rise into view
Each building, a neat ordering of glass and light
Nearby a needle sticks out
Two circles at the pointed end, a thread-through, the start of a beading
These circles are different in size
They do nothing but offer us a different view of ourselves
An assemblage of pretty dots and moving bits
Into this, we are coming for the real hour of the day
(Poems from Light by Souvankham Thammavongsa, copyright 2013 by Pedlar Press)
Nick Thran: When you began to lay all of these poems out together and think of the book as a whole, how much did the subject and presence of light throughout just naturally settle into its various pools and angles, and how much did you have to go in like a technician in order to switch bulbs, adjust the brightness, etc.?
Souvankham Thammavongsa: I always begin with the idea of the whole book. I know I am writing a book from the beginning. I worked from the whole first.
I'm interested in repetition and space and margins. I am interested in what it means to have very little. I knew writing about light would touch on all those things, or I was going to make it do that.
One of the things I struggled with early on was how to sustain the energy of the word--I didn't want to keep looking for the word light and I didn't want it to be predictable. Sometimes I hid it inside another word like "flight" or used another language or hid it behind an emotionally charged event or made the tone of the poem carry it. Sometimes I relied on a different meaning of the word or just the sound. The poems when read together were "in light of" the other. The idea of light and the word light work the way the grid does when you are beginning to draw. Eventually, you don't need it. You stop looking at the lines and there's a drawing there. What it took to get each poem to fall into the whole of the book felt very unnatural. I knew something equally unnatural should happen in the work and I think it takes place in the bareness and the clarity of the language.
Nick Thran is the author of two poetry collections: Every Inadequate Name (Insomniac Press, 2006) which was a finalist for The Gerald Lampert Award (Canada's prize for debut collections), and Earworm (Nightwood Editions, 2011) which won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His poems have appeared in Arc, The Best Canadian Poetry 2010, Geist, Maisonneuve, and The Walrus.
Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in a Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand in 1978. She has written three poetry books, the most recent of which is Light (Pedlar Press, 2013). Light won the 2013 Bookie Award for Best Book of Canadian Poetry. Her first book, Small Arguments, won a ReLit prize, and her second collection, Found, was made into a short film by Paramita Nath and screened at film festivals worldwide.
(photo credit Jennifer Rowsom)