Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Sappho Poems & a little bit of Ramble

I've started writing a series of poems I've titled "The Sappho Poems" which as you might guess have to do with Sappho's fragments. Recently I got a translation by the poet Anne Carson. I am drawn to the fragments out of a sense of mystery, very little remains of her work. Only one poem in full. Tonight I read this poem (posted below) and before I read it I tried to explain to a small group of poetry lovers why I like to write poetry this time of year. It has to do with the barren landscape, the gray muddled sky, and the sensation of stark emptiness. The landscape of winter asks the poet to speak: to create the beauty of loss. I don't want to say, the poet writes herself into the landscape because there is this whole thing about projecting the self onto the world that can be in a way dangerous and ugly. But it is about having conversations with the landscape, about speaking and listening to the woods around me, the mountains in the distance.

The other day we were driving down Route 7 and the mountain looked so much like a sleeping animal dusted with snow. I could not get over my want to run my hand over its thick coat of fur. I knew that I would feel the warmth of its body as the snow melted in my hands. I dreamed a tiny dream of lying down beside the sleeping beast and listening to the mammoth heart beat of the mountain. This was the day after the shooting.

My heart was raw and wide open with this thought: this is what we have chosen, this is how we as Americans have chosen to live. We voted fair and square, majority wins. It is foolish to be surprised. But of course we are, how could we not be? How can we not reel with agony and terror? I did not start out to write about this. But here it is--as it seems to be everywhere, ever-present as we bake our holiday treats and wrap our gifts. I realize I have many things I want to say about the shooting, but my heart doesn't have the patience to endure composition.

Francesca Woodman

I will say this. Last night in class we discussed the Holocost; I realized my students didn't know the definition of democracy--like, I said, what is the definition of democracy? silcence; the Nazis were very ordinary people; if we paint evil as Other than, we fail to see the truth of human nature; the word "evil" is not the right word because it creates the binary that tricks us into believing that the shooter was different somehow--he was "Not Me"; Hannah Arendt wrote that lonliness could lead to treacherous behavior because it cuts the self off from common sense...thus, it cuts the self off from the truth of the world and the real consequences of one's actions; really, I just want to walk out on the frozen lake and smell the ice and listen to the whale sounds of it cracking...that is, I want to lie down and listen to the heart beat of the mountain.

Here is the poem.

Kitchen Song



] we live


] the opposite






In the kitchen, the wolves       

curl down between us

                                                among the wooden legs of chairs

            where the baby crawls

picking table scraps,   

starved for something more than milk—


a crust of moon at the windowsill   

                                    a sparrow on the porcelain edge, the faucet’s drip—


the white tails of deer bounding,

    the rabbit’s twitch and tender, a spray of grouse

                                                     & the baby, scooped up into your arms—


through the bramble of wild thorns, the garden untended

the old growth and new

through the mess of it all,

this life—

I want to say, I’m sorry I can’t give enough, I’m sorry it will come to an end,

sudden and ugly even if we last, especially if we last, until the body curls inward with age—


all one wants to say

all that hope

a million nights like this one will never be enough

but we don’t know it yet—


Tonight I hear you singing the White Album as you rock the sick baby down and I know you know

I love you, as I know you love me, and we love him—but still, still


                        In the kitchen the wolves curl down, restless, teeming,

the baby is fisting wet toast, cold egg, dust balls of hair, the doe grazes at your feet—

                                    we live

                             the opposite  


what do you see?

there, through the copse of birch 

through the thicket and bramble,

wild thorn, red berry


in the forest 

of our love

   what do you see that keeps you so close

to joy—like breath

on a winter’s window—

            I want to see it too.                               



woodbird said...

Ah, I love this poem, Emily! You might be just the poet I've been looking for these days...babies and woods...yes yes.

Emily Arnason Casey said...

Thanks, Woodbird...poems for stick season!!