Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Marie Howe

In the past three months, there have only been six "Sunday Sabbath Poetry" posts, half of which were repeat poets. That's three new poets in a span of 15 weeks -- one new poet every five weeks. What a terrible track record!

I'm not sure what happened -- part of it was travel, part of it new interest in Franz Wright (and completing his catalogue), part of it finishing out the bulk of my reliable knowledge on contemporary poets (and their books I have checked out from the library). In any case, I am hoping to begin anew today, with new poets scheduled weekly for at least the next three to four months. Some to be featured -- new to me if not new to others, mostly suggested by my friend (and poet!) Andrew Krinks -- include Thom Satterlee, Adam Zagajewski, Dana Gioia, Aaron Baker, Scott Cairns, and Edward Hirsch. That should take us to the end of August and the 2-year anniversary both of the blog and of the Sunday Sabbath Poetry series, which we'll commemorate with the tenth post dedicated to series inspiration Wendell Berry.

But as for today, the following poem is from the 1998 collection What the Living Do. Marie Howe's gentle and heartbreaking words bring me to tears each time I read them, as do so many of the collection's pain-scarred poems, here particularly in connection to Katelin's and my experience with comas and death in the last year and a half. "And it's a story now..." That all our stories might be found in the space between that future-opening word and the grace of its answer: "He came back."

- - - - - - -

For Three Days
By Marie Howe

For three days now I've been trying to think of another word for

because my brother could have died and didn't,

because for a week we stood in the intensive care unit trying not to

how it would be then, afterwards.

My youngest brother, Andy, said: This is so weird. I don't know if I'll be
talking with John today, or buying a pair of pants for his funeral.

And I hated him for saying it because it was true and seemed to tilt it,
because I had been writing his elegy in my head during the seven-hour
drive there

and trying not to. Thinking meant not thinking. It meant imagining my

surrounded by light -- like Schrödinger's Cat that would be dead if you

and might live if you didn't. And then it got better, and then it got worse.
And it's a story now: He came back.

And I did, by that time, imagine him dead. And I did begin to write
the other story:

how the crowd in the stifling church snapped to a tearful attention,

how my brother lived again, for a few minutes, through me.
And although I know I couldn't help it, because fear has its own language

and its own story, because even grief provides a living remedy,
I can't help but think of that woman who said to him whom she

her savior: If thou hadst been here my brother had not died, how she

have practiced her speech, and how she too might have stood trembling,

unable to meet the eyes of the dear familiar figure that stumbled from
the cave,

when the compassionate fist of God opened and crushed her with
gratitude and shame.

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