December 28, 2007

Asking the Form

I. The Pattern

A thought came as if from nowhere, light
changing late in the day. Empty-handed, I set
the pattern on the page, deciding: Iíll write
a sonnet every day this week, and ask the form to let
me begin. Then I seemed to see it here:
a patient emptiness; a strong open shape
lit up at dusk; a vessel made of fine clear
glass, disappearing on a shelf, ready to take
whatever pours into it. This difference though:
the words it could hold would create it as well,
would give shape to what shapes them. How
can this be? and I fell
into feeling its truth for a second, amazed
at how the world is made.

II. The Resistance

And, now, I give up. Scattered before me: three
half-begun pages, scratched out at midnight,
as if forbidden. I forget what it is I need
to know; instead, such bitterness, a white
resistance. My children sleep close by, their faces
expressionless. Iíve leaned down, touched
their mouths with mine, asked if I could trace
their beauty in wordsówould that be enoughó
but words canít match the world. These dreaming
children will wake me tomorrow. Iíll hold
them beside the poemís emptiness: bright, breathing,
becomingÖ and know nothing that can be told
will fill me up. Still I use the form Iím given,
this sieve, with water running through.

III. The Voice

Iím sorry. Itís not you; itís me. Iím just off
today. Hesitating. Guilty. As if unable to say
what I mean. Unable to touch the rough
textures beneath the surface, to not fall away
further, futile. And I turn to this work
divided. With doubt and longing. For another
way of being, for words beyond the rush the hurt
the everyday speech, for the way of meaning your
voice can give. Let me be anchored here, inside deep
feeling. Let me find you breathing in these lines,
and know a presence waits to hear me speak
the image whole outside my mindó
Or will you always be lost inside me, my own pure
illusion: that this is a poem, and Iím not alone here.

IV. The Boys

After school today, Williamís friend
came over; six-year-olds, their muscles and bones
still soft from babyhoodÖ They played to win
each otherís admiration, together and alone
in this, armed with Wiffle bats, swinging for runs
or aiming down the yellow plastic barrels
at Redcoats. Outside, jacket-less in the dayís sudden
end-of-winter freeze, among wilted new stems, they fell
into playing their favorite game: a contest
of strength, shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye,
young bucks crashing together in a winter forest.
Then they burst back in where I was trying
to write this poem. And showed me their handsó
red with cold, shaped for impatient understanding.

V. The Room

The room is full of filtered light.
The shades, drawn firmly over each
long window, seem to whisper as slight
exhalations of cold air come reaching
in, blending with the indoor warmth and lack
of shadow. Itís March. Morning. A sudden
calmóexcept the little clockís hands
never stop moving. To begin,
sometimes, seems almost impossible.
But thereís no other choice; these anxious
steps must be counted too. When will
this beginning be over? So much
time passes this way; until, at the end,
thereís nothing left to understand.

VI. The Work

Today Iím thinking how tired you must be
of listening to me. Iím feeling tired of myself,
empty. That flattened-out, unseeing
frame of mind. You, watching, give no help
or kindness; you refuse. But all I need is fourteen lines
that hold a little warmth. Then I can leave
this effort behind, for now. Iíll be trying
not to blame either of us as I walk away, relieved
and angry, to enter the kitchen. There, Iíll use
a heavy knife, remove the beetsí rough skins
and stems, crush the garlic. Their juices
will stain my fingers; the tattered green
leaves will sizzle in a fragrant oil. Iíll forget
how ashamed I can feel, and weíll eat.

VII. The Question

Why did the poet choose this form
for this particular poem? Listening, a child
in school, I followed the reasons given, more
language on the ways of language unveiled,
and, from the answers, made these pictures
of the poetís work: first, textbook-clear themes
awaiting expression, then craft, a conscious chore,
a deliberate search for those devices needed
to match content. The teachers might have told
me something more. But things were done
methodically in school, to teach us; I unfolded
complexity with careful correctness. Once begun,
the mind continues, still a child, reaching out,
as if made to touch the world with thought.

—Hilary Sallick
previously published by Northeast

Posted by dwaber at December 28, 2007 02:38 PM