Some days I read a lot of poems. It has become my literary xanax. One thing I’m learning from this poetry challenge is that sometimes the images or phrases I read from others’ work set up camp in my heart and get carried around there for awhile.
Some of them, like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “The Ballad of the Harp-weaver”, got lodged there when I was eight and have stuck ever since. It’s a seriously sad, beautiful poem. I remember hearing it read aloud as a child and experiencing such acute ekphrasis that I still occasionally dream of that mother and her harp-weaving. Ekphrasis, I know, is usually used to describe a particularly vivid description of a work of art, but I’m using it to describe the clothes woven by that desperate mother, and no one can stop me.
The line “Power is hideous / like a barber’s hands”, from Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Blessed-Word: A Prologue” is a particularly vivid fragment I’ve carried for about ten years now. I recently came across a post, from me, on PhraseFinder from 2003, when I was searching for the origin of Shahid Ali’s line (it’s quoted in the poem).
Sometimes the best inspiration comes from our colleagues. Many of my favorites join in conversation, like Agha Shahid Ali did with Osip Mandelstam in “The Blessed Word”, or like so many poets do with allusions to their cross-dimensional colleagues. We join hearts. One of my favorite professors at The University of Montana calls it “joining the conversation”. Another asked that we envision creativity as an enormous pink cloud that comes down to earth and touches us as individuals, but sometimes many of us across the globe, in many times and dimensions. However it works, the idea of communicating with the artists who’ve taken up room in my heartspace is what drives today’s poem. That, and the feeling of talking to someone in depression, that feeling of never saying the thing that will be the rope they need to pull up.
Also, if you are wondering at the many hyperlinks in today’s post, it’s because I just learned how to do it. I’m not a terribly good blogger yet.
For Edna St. V
“Am I a kin to sorrow?”, she asks,
a piece of lettuce slipping from her fork tines.
“No, No, not at all”, you answer. “Well, maybe a little, just around the eyes”.
“Well then,” she sighes, looking down.
“But think what you can do with it all,” you said. “Remember that weaving you did, with that harp, and the threads of love that you wove into clothes for that little boy,
and remember the fight of the dirge when you said you were not resigned. You were not resigned!”
Touching her hand you offered her your honest look, but her eyes filled with fear and surrender and she said,
“It’s called synesthesia, and it’s fairly common.”
“Okay then, but maybe sorrow’s coming for you
only so you can spin it into hope and clothe us,
maybe it chose you special. Maybe darkness is just your black sheep cousin, and you can shelter him in the breast of your words.
Maybe you are the only one who can let it in and breathe it back out whole.
Are we not kin? Did you not tease my nightmares when I was eight? Did we not lie watching in the darkness for the harp-string colors to come blazing through the window? Won’t you please take my hand in yours like you did then?”
“Oh, all I ever did was walk you to school”, tucking her hair behind her ear so, so prettily.
“All you did was teach me motherhood and death and love and the strength of words and thread!”
But she has traced a door in her dressing on her plate, and nothing you can say could call her back through it.