Sunday, August 7, 2016

Poetry Saves the Day

Though it was in mid-August 2013 that I came back from my months in Paris, London, Scotland, Wales and Dublin, I didn't finish posting photos until late September. And I never really summed up the experience and won't try to at this late date. But I had planned to get back to blogging long before this – a week shy of three years since returning. Better late than never – maybe.

I used to sit in my recliner next to the window in my bedroom. For most of the time in tis house, the window was high and I couldn't see out without standing. Three years ago I remedied that situation and had the window expanded. Then I bought a recliner from my friend, Bruce, when he moved to Nepal. Heaven, but only briefly. Bruno came into my life and he took over the recliner for a year-and-a-half. I'm a softy (really!), so I didn't kick him out. Then Bruno died in April at age 14. It took me a few weeks to reclaim the chair.

Bruno in the recliner

The first time I sat in the recliner again was an afternoon when I wasn't going to work. I work part-time, four afternoons a week, and this was an afternoon without work. This was one of those one-in-five free afternoons. So I sat in the recliner, put a glass of rosé on the windowsill (now at the perfect height), and opened a book of poetry. And I read for a couple of hours and pondered the poem I was writing for Terry Ehret's poetry workshop.

At the end of the day, I looked back on it and thought about what a relaxing day it had been. Then I realized that I had gone to a landscape client's and measured her yard, taken Maggie to the dog park, gone to the Board of Supervisors with Marni Wroth and Elaine Holtz to talk about Victim's Rights Week, gotten some exercise, made dinner and watched an episode of “Downton Abbey.” In addition to the couple of hours in the recliner!

But it felt relaxed – just right. I think it was Eavan Boland's poetry that did the trick! Boland's political poetry makes a large political point through the telling of intimate stories about individual lives. That's what I wanted to do with the poem I was working on. Those hours in the recliner helped me achieve the same thing, I think.

Whenever I get really busy, poetry gets cut from the schedule. Big mistake!

Here is Eavan Boland at a poetry festival I went to in Paris.

Here's a poem of Boland's followed by mine. I did not read hers until I was well into mine, so it was exciting to find this. You'll see why.

Sea Change
by Eavan Boland

What did he leave me, my grandfather,
Who lost his life in a spring tempest
At the Chaussée des Pierres Noires
At the edge of Biscay?

With is roof of half-seen stars
His salty walls rising high and higher
To the last inch of the horizon
He built nothing that I could live in.

His door of cresting water,
His low skies skidding on the waves
His seaman's windows giving on
Iridescent plankton never amounted to home,

And no one lay at night
Seeing these unfold in their minds with
That instinct of amendment history allows
Instead of memory.

I was born in a place, or so it seemed,
Where every inch of ground
Was a new fever or a field soaked
To its grassy roots with remembered hatreds.

Where even if I turned to legerdemain
To bring land and ocean together,
Saying water meadow to myself for instance,
The distances remained.

A spring night in Dublin.
Neap tide on the Irish Sea,
To the north of here in the Garden of Remembrance
The dead are defined by their relation to land.

When he looked over the ship's rail at midnight
Into his ocean garden
All he saw was oxygen unfrocking phosphorus
Lacing the sea with greens.

by Susan Lamont

for my 5th great-grandmother, buried at sea in 1751, wife of John, first name unknown

I imagine cormorants, black against rinsed sky, fog
a second skin, your hands on the ship's slick rail
steady against the tide that day you fled. I imagine

your leave-taking, rough unpainted door, hedgerow
of hawthorn in bud, blue song-thrush eggs safe in their nest,
left behind with your idle loom. Ulster's kings of commerce

no longer trade in linen, raised the rent, pressed your life to the margins.
Your and yours can only imagine freedom and plenty somewhere that is not home.
A rough migration along the curve of the earth leaves the Irish Sea behind,

your ears filled with wind, heaven past the horizon, just out of reach.
I imagine ingots of light igniting the waves as smallpox ignites
your cheeks, your fevered dreams of home, the hawthorn buds, open,

their honeyed scent, a thrush's fluting song, while on this ship,
three children, John, Jacob, Sarah, clutch their father's homespun shirt.
I imagine a life, a death, your memory a whisper,

nameless. No shroud save your linen apron. No Memento mori
on lichened stone. The salt of fever and tears joins all the unnamed
beneath the waves, your life just so much salt in the wound of the world.

Though my poem has a very serious subject, it was really enjoyable to write. I got to do a lot of research for it. I found out which birds and plants are native to Ireland. I looked up industries of the time. I researched the politics. I wanted to know why people left Ireland 100 years before the Great Famine. I even looked up the most common epitaphs. Momento mori was not my first choice, but the others were too long. Since writing it, I have found out more about my unnamed great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, but that's a story for a later date.

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