SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: EARTH VOICES FOR SPRING

Public Domain image.

Public Domain image.



EARTH VOICES
By Bliss Carman

I

I heard the spring wind whisper
Above the brushwood fire,
“The world is made forever
Of transport and desire.

“I am the breath of being,
The primal urge of things;
I am the whirl of star dust,
I am the lift of wings.

“I am the splendid impulse
That comes before the thought,
The joy and exaltation
Wherein the life is caught.

“Across the sleeping furrows
I call the buried seed,
And blade and bud and blossom
Awaken at my need.

“Within the dying ashes
I blow the sacred spark,
And make the hearts of lovers
To leap against the dark.”

II

I heard the spring light whisper
Above the dancing stream,
“The world is made forever
In likeness of a dream.

“I am the law of planets,
I am the guide of man;
The evening and the morning
Are fashioned to my plan.

“I tint the dawn with crimson,
I tinge the sea with blue;
My track is in the desert,
My trail is in the dew.

“I paint the hills with color,
And in my magic dome
I light the star of evening
To steer the traveller home.

“Within the house of being,
I feed the lamp of truth
With tales of ancient wisdom
And prophecies of youth.”

III

I heard the spring rain murmur
Above the roadside flower,
“The world is made forever
In melody and power.

“I keep the rhythmic measure
That marks the steps of time,
And all my toil is fashioned
To symmetry and rhyme.

“I plow the untilled upland,
I ripe the seeding grass,
And fill the leafy forest
With music as I pass.

“I hew the raw, rough granite
To loveliness of line,
And when my work is finished,
Behold, it is divine!

“I am the master-builder
In whom the ages trust.
I lift the lost perfection
To blossom from the dust.”

IV

Then Earth to them made answer,
As with a slow refrain
Born of the blended voices
Of wind and sun and rain,

“This is the law of being
That links the threefold chain:
The life we give to beauty
Returns to us again.”


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


Bliss Carman FRSC (1861–1929) was a Canadian poet who lived most of his life in the United States, where he achieved international fame, and was acclaimed as Canada’s poet laureate during his later years. (Annotated bio courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Each year around this time I become so excited by the fact that winter is finally over that I must celebrate the birth of spring through poetry. The sun is shining, the crocuses and tulips are rising, the spring blossoms are in bloom. The cold and darkness that are just behind us are quickly forgotten by the promise of all that is warm and beautiful and worthy of rejoicing. So it has been since the days of Demeter and Persephone, and so it shall be until humankind destroys the natural balance of the world with climate change.

Today’s poem calls upon the “Earth Voices”—the spring wind, the spring light, the spring rain, and the Earth herself—to tell a story of the rebuilding of the world at springtime. The voices of spring speak of the newness they create: “Across the sleeping furrows / I call the buried seed, / And blade and bud and blossom / Awaken at my need.” “I am the master-builder / In whom the ages trust. / I lift the lost perfection / To blossom from the dust.” And the voice of Earth answers, calling upon the ancient power of three, reminding us, as spring does, that what is buried beneath winter “Returns to us again.”

Want to read more Spring Poetry?
SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SPRING! (2014)
SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LIZZIE LAWSON ON SPRING
SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SPRING! (2013)
The Poetry Foundation – Spring Poems

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The Lessons of Mayor Adams

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[Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the literary sci-fi novel The Doors You Mark Are Your Own, co-written by As It Ought to Be managing editor Okla Elliott and site contributor Raul Clement, available at Amazon.com, B&N.com, and direct from the publisher, as well as local bookstores and other online venues.] 

The Lesson of the Father:

On a glorious morning in mid-April, Joshua City having been washed clean with recent rain, William Adams, future mayor, was born at a robust nine pounds and eight ounces, his skin ruddy with the vigor of grand destiny. William Sr., the most successful water-baron in Joshua City, was in particularly high spirits because the rain would increase his already considerable fortune. Later, on the ride home, he even held the baby.

“This is an important day, isn’t it, Little William?”

Mayor Adams, who was already Mayor Adams before he became Mayor Adams, performed his first act of rebellion by promptly urinating in his father’s lap. William Sr. cursed and tossed Mayor Adams to his mother who, though exhausted from a prolonged childbirth, caught him—what can only be called providentially—just before he broke on the limousine floor.

In the following years, the Adams mansion was filled with sound: the clinking of brandy glasses as William Sr. brokered larger and larger deals; the daily bustle of servants; workers building extra wings on the house and then, when William Sr. had become the richest man in Joshua City, an indoor pool. But the loudest sound of all was the crying. From the nursery, Mayor Adams’s cries for his mother; and from behind the closed door of the librarie, where his mother spent most of her time, the crying of an unhappy wife.

The swimming pool was housed in an enormous wing of glass. When Mayor Adams was eight years old, after countless legal setbacks which, thanks to William Sr.’s money and influence, were not insurmountable, the pool was finally completed. William Sr. showed Mayor Adams the finished product with pride. Mayor Adams marveled at the blue jewel of the water, the way the light struck it through the glass and did a skittery dance he couldn’t quite follow with his eyes.

“You will be the heir to all of this,” William Sr. said. “Everything I build.”

Mayor Adams took on the confident, wide-legged stance of his father.

“But you’ll have to learn certain lessons, just as I did.” He rested a hand on Mayor Adams’s back.

The water hit Mayor Adams in the face. Flailing, the glass above him, and the light blinding him, he took a mouthful of water as he tried to call to his father. His father stood colossally distant.

“What I’ve done to you is unfair,” his father said. Mayor Adams quieted his splashing, trying just to keep his head above water now, more to hear his father’s words than to be able to breathe. “You can’t swim. But practically no one in Joshua City can. And that’s the point. To fulfill your destiny, you will need powers no else has.”

Mayor Adams gathered up an animal willpower with a human hatred and decided not to drown. He looked up toward his father, but the image he saw through the wavering fluid was a three-headed woman, each face distorted in dark grimaces. They beckoned him upward. Arms chopping toward the pool wall, he reached the grainy stone, but couldn’t grab the lip of the pool wall. He clawed at the stone and tore off a fingernail. He clawed again, doing damage that the doktor would later say had fractured three fingers, finally reaching his hand over the edge. He pulled himself out.

His clothes heavy with water, he looked at his father, who did not seem so colossal now.

“You’ve made me very proud, son.”

That was when Mayor Adams knew he would kill him.

 

The Lesson of the Mother:

On a lovely perfect day in mid-April, made peaceful by the recent rain, Josephina Adams struggled through seven hours of labor to give birth to the one joy in her married life. She clutched little William to her breast and looked at her husband, her hair stringy and her face moist with exhaustion.

“Can we leave now?” William Sr. asked the doktor.

“If your wife feels ready.”

She kissed little William on the forehead, and with a dreamy look in her eyes, speaking to herself and her new son, said, “After the storm comes peace.”

The first years with the mother were all warm milk and favorite blanket. But, at three, when the first flickerings of consciousness introduced themselves, the mother walked in with the red on her face again. And her eye-water. He cried more and she tickled his belly the way he liked.

When he was eight years old, he walked into the house dripping water everywhere. His mother tried to help him out of his soaked clothes.

“I can do it,” he said, struggling to make his fractured fingers do the simple task.

She brought him dry clothes, a towel, and called the doktor. This was the doktor who had come before, but always for the mother.

“No, not me,” she said, directing him to the boy.

“Is this becoming a problem?” the doktor asked.

***

She did it in full view of all the servants. “You desert thug,” she screamed.

She slapped him with real force. Mayor Adams had never seen his father cringe. His father stood there, trying to seem unstunned.

“You can do anything you want to me,” she said, “but if you touch my son again, I will kill you.”

The Oracles had told him he would learn this lesson three times. This was the second.

 

***

At thirteen, he sat on the edge of the tub while his mother bathed. Bubbles spilled out of the bath and circled up into the air. She liked his company at times like these, when his father wasn’t around. But she usually wasn’t so quiet.

“Pass me the razor.”

He wondered if she would slit her wrist. Would he stop her or would he just watch? But she dipped the razor into the bathwater to wet it. He had never thought of his mother as a woman before. One slick leg emerged and she shaved the bubbles down.

The sound of the door slapping against the wall behind him. The voice of his father: “What are you two doing?” And the plop of the razor falling into the water. His father grabbed him and tugged him to his feet. Mayor Adams resisted, pulled against his father’s strength. His mother’s hand was a fish swimming the bathwater for its hook, the razor. He stared at his father, who had paused, taking his new son in with a kind of fear. A yelp from his mother, and the water went pink with mother’s-blood. Mayor Adams charged his father, swinging his impotent fists wildly, hitting hard muscle and unbreaking bone. His father let himself be hit, feeling his power renewed with each helpless impact. And then one stray swing landed in his father’s groin, and he grunted in actual pain. Mayor Adams stopped, looked up at his father’s face, smiled at the grimace he saw there.

He was weightless off his feet and then came the hollow-solid crack of skull on porcelain. His mother was out of the water, holding the razor, blood in streams down her beautiful arm, and then the world blurred into the distance, into nothingness.

 

The Lesson of the Self:

It was a promise to himself, his promise, and it was what he was beholden to. Hadn’t it begun one fine April, after the rains had blessed Joshua City? Mayor Adams knew it wasn’t true, but he liked to think that the rain had brought him to cleanse the world of its filth. He did not yet know he was Mayor Adams, though he was. This final lesson would show him his true promise; it would make him what he was to become.

No one spoke of The Lesson of the Mother, in those terms or any. He was sent to the best technical institutes and the most expensive tutors were hired to instruct him during his holidays at home. In the years that followed, few would think of Mayor Adams as an intelligent man, especially today, but he was the brightest of students, as quick with mathematics as he was with foreign languages and rhetoric. Many would praise his moving speeches, but few would know he had written them himself. He suffered many setbacks at his father’s hands, but as his favorite quote from the Book of Before-Time runs: Almost every genius is familiar with a stumbling existence as one stage in his development, a feeling of hatred, revenge, and rebellion against everything that is and no longer becomes… an incomplete ego—the form in which every Caesar pre-exists.

Mayor Adams learned this and many other lessons at his prestigious technical institute. Some were lessons his father would have condoned. But he also learned how to float above, untouchable and untouching. When he returned home on his second winter break, his father was locked in his study with work. Who knew what he worked on besides the business of work itself? His mother wandered, a woman without meaning now that her son had left, only the occasional bruise her husband gave her to remind her she was alive. Mayor Adams saw all this without surprise, without even anger now. It was time. And remembering his first lesson, he knew what to do. After all, what had he taken all those chemistry classes for?

He took his father a glass of water. Hunched over the large oak table, his father looked tired and old. But that didn’t matter.

“I thought you could use a drink,” he said. “You work so hard.”

His expensive spectacles, designed to look expensive, slipped down his nose, not unkindly. “Why thank you, son.”

The water’s shadow, with its core of sun, wobbled on the table. Would his father ever take a drink of his future? Both of their futures filled that glass.

“You know, you’re growing into a fine young man, William. But I hope you are learning the importance of water to this family. The very essence of all life is held in this fluid.”

He lifted his glass to punctuate his point. He swirled the contents. Mayor Adams’s chest tightened.

“There are creatures in the Baikal Sea that are 99% water. Think of that. Were it not for that one percent, they would be exactly the same as the contents of this glass here. Amazing. And you, you are 60% water. Your blood is 92% water.”

Mayor Adams knew all this. He also knew the meaning of blood, whether from a razor in the bathtub or from the other lesson that could not be unlearned. He would carry on his father’s legacy, but it would not make his father immortal.

“Your future floats on its surface,” his father said.

“I know it does. You have taught me that before.”

“I have. But I don’t think you appreciate this fact, not in its fullness.”

“I do, father. Believe me, I do.”

His father drank, a large self-satisfied gulp as he always did. Mayor Adams had not skimped on his assassin’s purchase; the poison was incredibly strong and undetectable by normal forensic procedures. His father slapped his chest and then the table, knocking previously important papers to the shiny marble floor. The water spread over the hard smooth surface, glistening beautifully.

With a voice that mimicked real panic, Mayor Adams screamed out, “Mother! Mother! Something’s wrong with father. Quick!”

His father fell to the floor, gasping. He looked at Mayor Adams who peered down with no discernible emotion; even he did not know what he was feeling at that moment. If there were words to say, he did not say them. Their eyes met and everything was known. His father slithered like a broken lizard toward the northwest corner of the house, where oblivion awaited him.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE OPERATING SYSTEM FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH


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Editor’s Note: April is National Poetry Month. According to the Academy of American Poets, who founded the annual event in 1996, “National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.”

Today I want to highlight one of the countless organizations that has picked up the gauntlet the AAP has thrown down. This April the Operating System celebrates its 4th Annual 30-on-30-in-30 Poetry Month Celebration:

“Over the course of Poetry Month The OS brings you 30 poets (+ writers, musicians, and artists) writing on 30 (+ a few extra) poets for 30 days (every day in April). The intention is simple, but crucial: to explode the process of sharing our influences and joys beyond the random. To create a narrative archive around that moment where we excitedly pass on the work of someone who has made a difference in our lives. And so, too, this is an opportunity for The OS to introduce our audience to the work of the people writing — who are invited to share work of their own that demonstrates that influence. Really, its an exercise in appreciation.”

An exercise in appreciation. A labor of love. 30 days for 30 artists to share their 30 favorite poets with you. What more could you ask for? A little love from your fearless editor? You’ve got it! Keep up with the Operating System throughout the month of April and be on the lookout for yours truly sharing the love and inspiration that is Li-Young Lee.

What should you be doing RIGHT NOW? Go forth and fall in love, poetry style, with the Operating System’s 4th Annual 30-on-30-in-30 Poetry Month Celebration.

Want more National Poetry Month?
Spend each day in April with The Operating System.
Learn About National Poetry Month from the Academy of American Poets.
Read blog entries, online poetry sources, and get writing prompts from NaPoWriMo.
Celebrate NaPoMo with WordPress: Celebrating poetry, all month long.
30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, from the Academy of American Poets.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MIRIAM’S SONG

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“Miriam the prophetess” by Anselm Feuerbach. Public Domain image.


“Miriam the prophetess… took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. And Miriam called to them: Sing…” (Exodus 15:20-21)




Editor’s Note: The most important thing that has happened to Passover this year is the Notorious RBG’s decree that when we remember the Exodus, we need to remember the women. First and foremost among them, for me, is Miriam. The unsung hero of what is usually thought of as “Moses’ story,” Miriam is responsible for everything from Moses’ birth to his survival to providing water for the Israelites throughout their forty-year-sovereign in the desert. The first person in the Bible to be called a prophet, Miriam was beloved by her people but less-loved by her creator, who struck her down with leprosy to teach her the consequences of a woman voicing her opinion.

Song is one of the oldest forms of poetry, and the poetry of the Bible is one of the oldest written records of poetry we have. Sadly, all that remains of Miriam’s song in the Bible is a call to action: “And Miriam called to them: Sing…”

We are lucky, therefore, that Debbie Friedman (1951-2011) picked up this mantle. In “Miriam’s Song” she joins her voice with a new generation of women to remember and celebrate the heroine of the Passover story, responding to the prophetess’ call to action: “Sing.” Beloved by women and men alike all the world over, Debbie Friedman and “Miriam’s Song” are the kinds of modern Passover traditions we need. Inclusive and powerful, shedding new light on ancient traditions. For, as Debbie Friedman reminds us, “The more our voices are heard in song, the more we become our lyrics, our prayers, and our convictions.”

Want more Miriam, Debbie Friedman, and Feminist Passover?
Read the lyrics to “Miriam’s Song” by Debbie Friedman on Ritualwell
Debbie Friedman via the Jewish Women’s Archive
Miriam via the Jewish Women’s Archive
Buy The Journey Continues: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah on Amazon

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ELIZABETH LANGEMAK

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By Elizabeth Langemak:


A PHOTOGRAPH OF HER SHOWERING

             As passionless, burned-out, dusty shells, we dislike love poems . . . As [one of our
             editors] says, why not “text me a photograph of her showering”?

I am enclosing, as text, the photo
you ask for. Though my husband

refuses, I make this in secret
and print it black over white. Though

the angles and lighting are tough
to nail down, and the process

makes my whole body a long face
for tears as the spray breaks over

my scalp and rolls down.
Though my right hand withers,

as I rake damp hair into rows.
Though the cheap curtain cleaves

to my thigh, I peel it off like a rind
teased from its fruit in one strip.

You thought I was dusty, a shell.
You said I was burned out,

but now my skin is slapping and slick,
the camera demanding more arch

and frontal. When I read your note
I was spitting with anger. I could

not get your eyes off my nipples,
my breasts, but now I make you

this square handful of edges,
a black-and-white chip where my ass

hangs over tan lines like a sun
without set, where stretch marks

like fault lines ride over each thigh
and a pocked scar stabs into my shoulder.

Once I knew men like you and tried
to be sexy but in the shower

I only got soaked. On the bed
where I practiced I only looked

posed. In cabins on nights with your jars
full of scotch I hoped you might

see past what you saw and fuck me,
but now it seems we have both changed

our minds. Here I am. In a poem,
just breath-long, I am perfect.

I send you this picture because
a photo of showering is just wet

and sex, but the poem lays down
its camera and hands me a towel,

knows the route I send it
over my calves, over my nape

and around. How many
flashes and clicks turn a love poem

around into only a woman to
fuck you? Fuck you.


Today’s poem was originally published in AGNI and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Elizabeth Langemak lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is one of resistance. In response to the editors who called love poems “burned-out, dusty shells” and said, why not “text me a photograph of her showering,” Elizabeth Langemak speaks out against the objectification of women’s bodies and the misogyny rearing its ugly head in a still-patriarchal society. Frankly feminist, exquisitely lyric, and commendably unabashed, today’s poet answers the question “Why not text me a photograph of her showering?” with the only response needed: “Fuck you.”

Want more from Elizabeth Langemak?
Elizabeth Langemak’s Official Website

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David Caplan: A Micro-Interview and Three Poems

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David Caplan is the Charles M. Weis Chair in English at Ohio Wesleyan University and the author of four books of poetry criticism and poetry, most recently, Rhyme’s Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture (Oxford University  Press, 2014) and In the World He Created According to His Will (University of Georgia Press, 2010). His sequence, “Observances” won the Virginia Quarterly Review’s Emily Clark Balch Prize for Poetry.  A French-language edition of his monograph, Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form (Oxford University Press, 2005), is forthcoming from the University of Liège Press (Presses Universitaires de Liège).

***

Okla Elliott: You work as both a scholar and a poet. How do these two endeavors interact or inform each other?

caplan-041411David Caplan: In my criticism, I try to figure out what other poets are doing. In my poetry I try to figure out what is happening to me. That is not to say that my poetry is necessarily autobiographical. The poems you reprint depict a fictional student studying in a Chassidic yeshiva I have visited. He is not me, but imagining another life allows me to think about mine.

My research often starts with questions that bother me and that I cannot answer. My first book, Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form, began as my dissertation. When I was a graduate student, I wondered why contemporary poets favored certain forms—for example, sestinas and ghazals–and not others—for example, the heroic couplet. As I read, wrote, and revised, I tried to develop persuasive explanations.

My recent book, Rhyme’s Challenge: Contemporary Poetry, Hip Hop, and Rhyming Culture considers why hip-hop artists dominate the contemporary art of rhyme. My poetry is not influenced by hip hop; I admire its artistry and wanted to clarify its achievement (both to myself and to others).

Okla Elliott: Would you talk a bit about form and formalism in poetry? You write bothcaplan_1720509 formalist poems and free verse, but as is often said, free verse isn’t entirely free. What is your interest in formalism, and how do you conceptualize form within free verse?

David Caplan: I am in interested in poetic form because I am interested in reading and writing well-made poems. “Well-made” of course can describe otherwise very different kinds of poems. For instance, Harryette Mullen and Derek Walcott are two of my favorite contemporary poets. Their poems hardly resemble each other’s. Both, though, write what I would call “well-made poems.” Whether in meter or free verse, a poem is well made when its formal elements instruct and delight.

Okla Elliott: The poems reprinted below owe much of their content to Jewish cultural and historical traditions. Would you discuss how you have incorporated these materials? I am particularly interested in how utterly contemporary the poems feel while still linking into millennia-old traditions.

David Caplan: All of our lives mix the old and the new. In this respect, the lives of Orthodox Jews are no different. When learning Talmud, they might look up an unfamiliar Aramaic word on their smartphones (as I mention in one poem). I try not to present such moments as quaint. Instead, they are meant to suggest how we live.

There is a tendency in much Jewish-American poetry to approach traditional Jewish texts primarily as folklore. When contemporary authors draw from these texts, they often try to capture a certain otherworldly quality.

I read the same texts differently. My poems respond to certain Chassidic texts—namely The Tanya and other teachings by the leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—because they offer powerfully challenging insights into human existence.

***

Into My Garden

As if New Jersey were Babylon, an Argentine
and an Israeli argue in Aramaic, Styrofoam cups
of instant coffee warm in their hands,

Other boys return to last night’s commentary:
I have come into My garden,
back and forth they sing like an invitation.

What did I learn in school? Whenever
the philosopher lectured on the death of metaphysics,
pollen found an open window, pistil

and stamen crazed with each other.
Yellow, the serpentine walls and columns.
Yellow, the library where a church belonged.

Some nights his best student recited
the lecture like a pledge, but nothing changed
not the pitcher between us, the glass

slick with our fingerprints, the envy I felt.
Boys dressed like men race the stairwell as if to the singing,
as if to hear what My garden means:

seven generations caused God to withdraw,
seven generations drew him back.
All those years of talking–what did I learn?

All arguments end with a shrug.

***

Only the Hebrew

The sudden quiet of a room emptied of noise.
Only the Hebrew, a stone on his tongue.

The boy who carried his suitcase up the stairs
swayed as if into a thought.

What is holy? No walls of Jerusalem stone,
no microphone discreetly clipped across a lapel

to announce when to stand. The more
you need them, the more words demand.

Windowsills honored with books,
pictures of the righteous, watching:

this is how we learn to walk,
a father stepping back, just out of reach.

***

Chassidus by Telephone

On the train home, a Bluetooth in his ear,
he listens to a lecture on fear and love,
the four kinds, lower and higher.

To get religious—what does that mean?
Sometimes it all feels like an improvisation:
the snow lifting from the tracks,

a hardboiled egg wrapped in foil, an extra
sandwich in case he meets someone who needs it.
He has no wonder story to tell, no moment

where a miracle resolved all doubt,
only a classroom after the term’s last class,
mango liquorish saved for the occasion,

blessings in the forms of toasts.
Love and fear: a wordless tune
sung faster and louder,

as if that were the reason
the soul descended into this world,
to link arms with friends and sing.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RICHARD D’ABATE

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By Richard D’Abate:


THE SADNESS OF YOUNG MOTHERS

Because we’re at the beach today our sadness
knows itself,

Between the sinking sand and slowly measured
falling waves.

Not long ago time was arrow-tipped and
ravenous.

It found its mark before the god of love had
even stirred.

It filled our bones to bursting, era of the second
self begun.

Now every gesture mirrors gestures of a
smaller one.

They raise their arms, we raise our arms, they wobble
toward the sea

Like turtle hatchlings, thoughtless prey, and
so do we.

We match the steps of half-formed beings—
tender, new—

Ourselves, our future selves, alive but always
cut in two.

We are afraid. The burning sun devours
little bones.

Their little mouths will gulp the tangled weed, the
sliding foam.

We run, we start to run, but time has a thickness
all its own,

And half of half of half is motion’s rule or
none at all,

As when the cresting tops of glittering breakers
do not fall,

Or when in dreams we hear, but do not hear, our
children call.



Today’s poem was originally published by AGNI and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Richard D’Abate is the author of a poetry collection, To Keep the House From Falling In (Ithaca House Press), as well as stories and poems in Epoch, Apple and other magazines. His most recent work appears in Agni Online. A native of New York City, his professional life has been focused in Maine: as a professor of English literature, an advocate for the public humanities, and director of the Maine Historical Society, a statewide cultural agency and research center. His scholarly essays have appeared in various publications, including American Beginnings (University of Nebraska Press), on New World exploration, encounter, and cartography. He now lives and writes in Wells, Maine.

Editor’s Note: As a reader and a card-carrying feminist, I was as taken aback by today’s poem for its stunning lyric as I was by the (male) poet’s ability to capture the way mothers worry for their children. (Fathers do as well, of course, but today’s poem is about the experience of young mothers, specifically.) How audacious to take on this persona! And how effortlessly and accurately the poet has captured this unique viewpoint that is not his own. Haters gonna hate, and there are those who feel that a male writing from a female perspective is a patriarchal act of establishing dominion over a realm that is not theirs to control. But the other half of that debate is that of being empathetic, of trying to understand the other from within the other’s shoes, of being sensitive to those from outside our own gender, and Richard D’Abate has done this with today’s honest and heartbreaking work.

The poet has given breathtaking form to the parental experience, naming it the “era of the second self,” calling children “our future selves,” who, through a mother’s eyes, are “alive but always / cut in two.” Even more palpable is the mother’s fear for her children: “they wobble / toward the sea // Like turtle hatchlings, thoughtless prey, and / so do we,” “We are afraid. The burning sun devours / little bones. // Their little mouths will gulp the tangled weed, the / sliding foam. // We run, we start to run, but time has a thickness / all its own … [as] when in dreams we hear, but do not hear, our / children call.” By the skilled hand of the poet the fear and helplessness mothers feel for their children is brought to life through a vivid imagery and lyric beauty so chilling we feel it as if it were our own.

Want more from Richard D’Abate?
Buy To Keep the House from Falling In on Amazon
The Richard D’Abate Lectures: Conversations About History, Art, and Literature
Maine Historical Society: Richard D’Abate Endowment Fund for Scholarship & Special Programs

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