A poem referring to funeral clothes:
Requium, pt III
No, this is not I,
But someone else,
For this much
I could not suffer,
Let the black cloth
What has happened
And let them take away
The lanterns . . .
|Steven Wall, Aug 2003, American Boxelder Farm, Montana|
The early bird catches the word
Before the others speak
or put on the radio
The early worm
Than to be out that early
The worm keeps the
word a secret
whispers it into
the dewy grass
The early girl
drinks the word
in the dew
flies over your back porch
looking at the sky
searching for words
for the bird
for the word
for one word
that will bring her gently into the day
into all the other words
I owe you speech acts,
I own you soup –
I couldn’t hear a thing
and that’s because I was the one
making all the noise
it was on me –
I carry it with me
as an unsquared
instanter upon the next one –
|(c) Orestis Panagiotou/EPA, courtesy The Guardian.com|
The precocity of lonely souls
|Top: courtesy HowtopracticeJazz.com|
when language infuses being
I’ve looked under the shell of breath
for a magic pea and have sold
snake oil elixirs and isles
to tourists and naïve conventioneers
I never met Lincoln Marx
or the boys
at the local Pipefitters Union
My greatest loss
was to lose my jazz trombone
at my own wedding
Forget the nonsequiturs [sic]
of security systems
or the times
fingers grew numb with feeling
we’re all in a perfect fit of improvisation
Just ask an inanimate object
the ghost of Dizzie Gillespie
or a Brahmin of technology
for a lift sometime
in the dead of night
to a higher plane
of rhetorical beauty
1. I am going to admit that I first read Akhmatava’s poem verse out of context… in the context of her entire work, the poem means one thing quite clearly– a story of mourning and needing to mourn – a Requiem. But with a different stress and a different perspective, I first read this relating almost to Plain Clothes – “No, this [costume / uniform] is not I … it is someone else.” Being read as “I find myself in this costume, but this is not who I feel myself to be. For this much I could not suffer.” Perhaps I have been too deeply impacted and familiar with the Bitter Poets of Canada and now read all poetry as situational protest verse. “Let the black cloth [be], let it cover what happens, what has happened in the past, but let me be! … let history be, let it cover the past, move on already… this is not me!” “And let them take away the lanterns, those bright symbols of a separate past, our distinctiveness, our difference, our cultural melancholy of night!”.
I am not going to fight this one. I know I am wrong – but what if I was not? Just take a moment and observe how for just a moment, I celebrated Akmanavad as quite clearly a Mennonite poet.
2. Sylvia’s Writing in Clichés I does not come across so much as Mennonite, but rather Menno-like in that she is describing that essence of a simple morning ritual – that Folgers cup moment so poetically celebrated by Madison Avenue in the days before Starbucks and Tim Horton’s Express. Sylvia describes the quiet early morning ritual by which we awaken to our world, welcome nature and face the quiet simplicity of just being – that time between our first sips of morning coffee and our opening of Our Daily Bread™ for one’s personal morning devotional study.
How many mornings I spent like that – sometimes studying my Bible, sometimes prepping for one of our high school tests or quickly running my thoughts over the required Scriptural memorization for some class, group or study or another. These were my own personal favorite times of day.
One of the most powerful, I recall not being at home studying, but having dropped my neighbor friend off at another neighbor’s house so he could catch the private plane to Billings for to participate in the state 4-H cattle and meat judging contest (yes, we were into such things). On the way home, driving through the morning mists of the shallow valleys, I first heard KGLE play When Morning Gilds the Skies – My Heart Awakening Cries – May Jesus Christ Be Praised!” This song has been a favorite of mine ever since.
Another moment caught up in my reaction to this poem is the morning after my mother died. I had spent all night driving up from Bozeman where I had literally just moved (that day) to attend graduate studies, but instead spent the night driving up with an acquaintance to help comfort my father and deal with the results of my mother’s car accident. The next morning, I drank coffee and walked out down the driveway – and found myself refreshed by the sunrise, the clouds, the fresh air and the morning songs of the birds. That day, the word was simply “peace” –
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds Christ Jesus.
Be still and know that I am God;
Then one refills one’s cup. Returns one’s Bible to the shelf or bookbag, Our Daily Bread™ tucked safely inside or just on top, and one turns on the radio – to the morning news on the CBC-1 or a morning broadcast on KGLE. We did not get FM radio – so it was a choice between these two – or the morning market report on the local community station… but being a small rural area, we already had the news and were more eager for news of the larger world or yet another spiritual helping of meal before beginning our day. Thanks for the memory, Sylvia.
3. Jones’ Soup Song is yet another of those poems of which I am sure I am missing the main point. But, soup is an important, essential ingredient to the life and culture of the prairie Mennonites. In short, Jones’ poem is the opposite of Sylvia’s – I am eating lunch, I am pre-occupied with myself. I dominate, I own, I am listening only to myself. I am missing the point.
A second aspect of Jones’ poem is the sense of community that ought to be built up over the simply act of sharing soup or fastpa. We owe, we own, we contribute, we receive, or we blindly and foolishly do not . The act of sharing and of taking this time to share our food, our thoughts, who we are and who we are on that day finding ourselves to be is the essence of community, of the gemeineschaft, that makes up community – not just Mennonite ones.
4. The Speed of Denial is a more complicated poem and perhaps the most Postmodern in that it deals with alienation and the truthful, fruitful essence of real being.
I came across this booklet searching for Bible study aids relating to a study of John – John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” “The precocity of lonely souls, attains closure, when language infuses being.”
Against the expected protests of the author, I am reading this poem for our purposes as a commentary – imagine the Apostle John as a Postmodern Fundamentalist youth come into the city. The theology is the same – the word becoming breath… and this, the most poetic of the Apostles, finding emptiness and weariness in the words of his Epistle, his Evangel… and wondering what it is all about. His mind drifts back over a life of joy and pain, sorrow, hope, loss and love – his treasured trombone, perhaps played at the wedding of a friend – a wedding such as that once held in Cana.
Wondering if his life was worth it, if it was indeed well lived, if it mattered how few or how many heard and responded, or did not, to his message, his Evangel. His thoughts return to that jazz trombone – music being a direct connection with the soul, with creation, with God. “Has it all been worth it?” Answer: “Just ask an inanimate object [trombone] … for a lift sometime, in the dead of night, to a higher plane, of rhetorical beauty.”
So just as a small thought experiment, next time you look up in church, well a Catholic service anyway, and see John with the eagle, being ready to soar, replace that eagle with a Jazz trombone and reimagine John, for just that moment, walking down the central aisles with a Jazz trombone, leading a Louisiana Jazz Line band and your thoughts from this terrestrial plane, to the higher plane, from the doubts, trials, successes and failures of the now to the eternal promises of God through the Son, that intimate friend of John.
Again, I am certain that the poets of these works would find my interactions with their poems problematic, confusing and bemusing at best. But, well-established or not, these are the thoughts their works brought to my mind and these are thoughts I share with you and these poems.
 Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, v 1, Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris, editors, p 586, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1995.
 unarmed journal #65, St Paul, MN, 2012.
 unarmed journal #65, St Paul, MN, 2012.
 unarmed journal #65, St Paul, MN, 2012.