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Poem for the End of the Century

Maggie Morley

At the End of the Century

It's been a not-much life;
Most everything half finished or spoiled,
Friendships discarded, family fragmented,
Lovers like clinkers gone cold.

It's been a life spent blaming Mom
For what I have become;
Blaming Dad for marrying Mom;
Blaming everyone for my shortcomings.

What sustains me as I sit in my mess,
Is the possibility that deep inside
There glimmers a worm of grace—
A small green flash at sunset

That promises a not-much redemption,
The dim possibility that I might
Forgive myself, might set myself free
To live the life I want to have,

And implying perhaps
That I might be wonderful inside,
That I might have done something wonderful,
In my lumpish progress toward my not-much death.

November, 1996

Maggie's Questions:

Is the allusion to the green flash at sunset too obscure? (It is a natural phenomenon seen by lucky mariners; it presages good luck.) I had thought of using this alternative: "A tiny winking harbor light."

Have I said enough? Should I have someone else tell me "When people really look, they see that you’re wonderful inside."

I don't think "clinkers gone cold" is a tired old phrase. Is it?

Yes it is me again or is it I again?. I would like to add a few extra observations. Maggie should not have to explain old sayings. It is our job to educate ourselves and research. With all the technology to hand and world wide web, do we realy need to have every detail explained. Poetry is not just the person who whrote it, it is the place of origin, the very people who touched it,the sun that warmed it, the rain that washed it, the anger that crushed the paper of mistakes,the doubt that almost sealed its fate,and the other poem I wrote. And then someone asks "did you apologise"?. Answer "sorry mate I couldnt help being born, i was too young at the time". When a phrase looks odd in someones poem, dont look for a better one, ask why. That is poetry, not the oxford english dictionary. When using a comment page think!. It is not necsesarily a suggestion page or critics page but a question page to connect, to gain insight. Poetry is to be that person for that moment in time. When you have finnished a poem, read it, experience it ,picture the moment, and at the end ask yourself "is that my signiture?. I am Dislexic I don't apologise. I have by now upset, just about everyone assumed to be litterate in poetry that is not my purpose. When you compose poetry, dont stop to think of a word that rhymes, just flow or that moment is dead. Or for those thick purists "dont think of aword that rhymes for it is that which muffeled the clock's pure chime".
Kevin a Cross
Hayling Island, England - Sat Aug 24 18:32:37 2002
Dear Maggie The first thing i must say is more or less the same as Becca Watson. Your poem is your poem, your feelings, your experience,the very heart of you. To change a word of your poem, a phrase, it is no longer you. How you express your feelings by way of visual experience is you. Your tears are your writing ink you cannot change the ink you cannot change the past,but you can pass it on. It is true, you are not your own creation nor your parents. Your dissapointment is only natural. If you think you sit amongst a mess "you ain't seen nothing yet" as they say. Nothing is in a mess it is just arranged differently. Life is not a rehearsal, it is journey witout a map. Unique is better than perceived perfection. We are your listeners not your critics. To sum up, Dont put on a false american accent when you sing, just becouse every one else does. They dont know why they do it but you do.
Kevin Cross
Hayling island, England - Sat Aug 24 16:16:39 2002
Maggie - I read this after I wrote my poem for the exercize, and we chose similar topics, so of COURSE I like that, but you dealt with it in a very different way, its much more immediate and personal than mine - very nice. Your repetition of not-much, and the many other little touches, like lumping and "worm of grace" (WOW!) are the perfect touch to really SHOW the speakers state of mind - the only place that state of mind slipped at all for me was the final line of stanza 2 - "Blaming everyone for my shortcomings." It seemed almost too diagnostic, too intellectual - it broke the flow of the rest of the poem. I would suggest replacing that with something more specific - someone blamed for a failed relationship, lovers blamed for their inability to stay with the speaker, etc. As far as the green flash goes - I wasn't familiar with it, but (a) now that I am a little familiar, it works well, and (b) before I was, the fact that the flash was green called to mind the way that some maggots seem to have a little bit of a greenish white glow - icky image, I know, but it went with the worm of grace and the self-deprecating tone of the poem quite powerfully.... (Hope no one lost their lunch just reading this!)
Cate Kulak
West Hartford, CT USA - Sun Aug 15 11:25:31 1999
'Not-Much' much affects the balance of words in your poem -Clever ! The language is simple while the message deap. I enjoyed it Very-Much. :-)
Marc Libidinsky
La Habra, CA USA - Sat Jul 17 12:47:22 1999
How about calling it My Not-Much Poem, something to make it a little less self-serious. "Worm of grace" is hard for me to swallow, grace being a supernatural abstraction and worm being physically associated with a corpse. And what "possibility" is there for "a small green flash at sunset" being deep inside of you. That's a disconnect for me. However, I like "lumpish progress."
Albert Cipriani
Orange, CA USA - Sat Nov 28 15:18:38 1998
Dear Maggie; Just followed some links and found myself at this wonderful site and your delightful poem. As to your question on 'clinkers', I would remove it, not because it may not have meaning for everyone but rather to keep the line consistent with the 3 previous lines in the stanza. My suggestion is "Lovers gone cold." It now becomes a simple completion of the 'list' started in line 3 and I believe in its simplicity is stronger. Stanza 3-Line 1 > I suggest removing 'as I sit' so the line becomes "What sustains me in my mess" - How you are arranged in 'your mess' is extra information that adds little to the line. Stanza 4 Lines 3/4 > As you close the poem you are looking, with hope, to the future. Lines 3/4 should reflect that factmore strongly. There should be no 'I might have done' - instead I suggest " That I might do something wonderful" - and - line 4 should be more direct...I suggest "As I limp towards my not-much death." I offer these suggestions with respect and appreciation for this fine work. Sincerly - Mark
Mark Clement
Toronto, ON Canada - Sat Sep 26 17:33:53 1998
Dear Maggie: You have presented a wonderful poem.I like to suggest a few things which you may think over.

At the End of the Century

It's been a not-much life;
Most everything half finished or spoiled,
Friendships discarded, family fragmented,
Lovers (repressed) like clinkers gone cold.

It's been a life spent blaming Mom
For what I have become (without her);
Blaming Dad for marrying (another) Mom;
Blaming everyone for my shortcomings.

What sustains me as I sit in my mess,
Is the possibility that deep inside
There glimmers ((warmth)) of grace
A ((distant)) green flash at sunset

That promises a not-much redemption,
The dim possibility that I might
Forgive myself, might set myself free
To live the life I want to have,

And implying perhaps
That I might be wonderful inside,
That I might ((seek)) something wonderful,
In my ((limpish)) progress ((before I die a)) not-much death.
The ((double brackets)) indicate the words substituted.(single brackets) indicate the words inserted. ( ) is for the words deleted. This is only my suggestion. I know each poet feels to have his/her own way of expression. I feel you can try highlighting what is said in lines 3&4 by adding (without her) in line 6 and inserting (another) in line 8. You may try ((warmth)) for 'worm', ((distant)) for 'small' , ((seek)) for 'have done' which convey a deeper meaning.

I don't mean to inappropriate your feelings for your parents in suggesting changes in 2nd stanza. A poem need not be always autobiographical to convey what is intended. I interpret your poem starts with dying and concludes with life redeemed.

-Rathnashikamani Bijja , India
Rathnashikamani Bijja
Kalpakkam, TN INDIA - Thu Aug 20 05:44:17 1998
I really like your rythm and sense of meter. Quite appropriate for the theme and mood here. I liked "tired old clinkers", I'd never heard it before - maybe I need to read more. Much of your imagery is lovely - esp. "there glimmers a worm of grace a small green flash at sunset" I don't think this is too obscure an image. I didn't know about the reference, but the image was strong, and gives a powerful jolt to this part of the poem. I think your references to your parents could be stronger if they were stated in the same kind of imagery you used in these other lines. It's tricky - it's important to keep a poem like this one connected to real experience and not just a collection of imagery. But if one line contains a strong image and one preceeding it is more "real world", I sometimes find the contrast distracting. On the whole - yeah I know the feeling. Fine work.
Paul Belz
Oakland, , Ca USA - Sat Mar 7 11:36:29 1998
I often find myself rereading my poetry and wanting to make revisions, cuts and sometimes even wanting to scrap the entire piece. At this point, I begin to laugh at myself. Once again, I was taking myself too seriously. I think it is impossible to get away from critiqueing ourselves constantly, as long as we remeber that poetry is meant to, in the words of another poet, "tick off the possibilities." We become too worried about what other people are going to think, or if they will understand it. Will they ever completely understand it? I think the creator is the only one who truly understands it. After all, we were the ones in that exact moment that it was created. Your poem is beautiful. Lost souls at already a young age. We are stumbling down the paths that have been laid before us. The only problem is that the signs and directions are in a foreign language. They, nor their destinations, makes much sense to us. We must form our own, but we are unsure, confused and all too often scared to venture from these paths. When we find ourselves here, we do the perfectly "normal" thing, we blame the bricklayers. It has been awhile since I've read a poem that, after reading it, I would have thought you wrote it for me. Those are cool moments. Thank you for that.
Jim Healey
Columbus, OH USA - Mon Feb 23 13:24:51 1998
Maggie, do NOT remove or change the "green flash." This phrase has MUCH more meaning than "harbor lights," especially in the context of your poem. The "green flash" is an illusion created by circumstances (i.e.-- calm water, clear skies and a setting sun), whereas "harbor lights" refers to something concrete,attainable (i.e.-- a safe haven reached through perserverance). I think, in the con- text of your poem, that the unattainable "green flash" is more in keeping with your overall theme than the attainable "harbor lights."

As for the obscurity of the reference, that is what poetry is all about. Make the reader become involved in the poem. If they do not recognize this phrase, it will pique their interest and cause them to think.

All in all, a wonderful poem (a sad life, but a wonderful poem!). I hope to see more of your work. :)
Patrick McGonegal
Ogden, UT USA - Mon Feb 23 12:54:54 1998
A fine poem indeed.It speaks of life and the puzzlement of what is the true meaning.Am I all I truly want to be,or am I blame everyone for what I am.You do envoke thought.What is the line saying--In my lumpish progress toward my no-much death?From one,who is learning just like yee. J.Baratta
Huntsville, AL. USA - Sun Feb 22 12:58:57 1998
Full marks for having the strength to put your poetry out where others can throw comments at it. My impression of this poem is that the narrator is not willing to take responsibility for his/her own life at the beginning and is still that way at the end. He/she is still waiting for something to happen. Why does she/he think there might be some redeeming something about their life when they have made no move to improve it. I think a poem, like a short story must move its character from point A to point B. I don't find any movement here. I do like your "green flask" line but wonder if more couldn't be made of it. Can it be a methaphor istead of a similie? It would be stronger then. The idea is here but I think this piece needs more work to make it stronger overall.
Bob Stallworthy
Canada - Wed Oct 8 13:13:52 1997

Maggie-- I just stumbled onto the APW from somewhere. Now it's in my Favorites folder. As regards your poem, it really is wonderful. I agree about condensing out some of the I's. I had read about the green flash in one of Annie Dillard's works, and so was familiar with the reference. As someone else said, though, I like a poem that offers me something to learn. Look at Seamus Heaney. Who but an Irishman would understand a lot of his references? But I love his work. It makes me dig. This one is lovely. Well done.
Don Barnes
Denver, CO USA - Thu Sep 4 00:50:18 1997
Well done poem it is somthing many can relate to! The phrase about lovers could be revised, but other that that, perfect!
USA - Wed Aug 13 15:45:00 1997
Well, the poem did create a faint image and a feeling; one that I think I can associate with . I like some of the others have a problem with stanza 2 . I don't think you need to delete the idea I think it is of import to the overall scheme . I don't want to offer any suggestions on that part,because I not totaly positive on your true ( family ties ) feeling here . Another thing is that you go from the singular Mom ANd Dad to all incompassing Everyone . As I stated earlier good job . AS FOR YOUR QUESTIONS I was not famillar with the green flash thing, but it did create a clear pocture in my mind so my ignorance did not allow the image to be lost . I also was unfaillar with clinkers gone cold, but through the content was able to guess .
Phillip Spencer
Auburn , AL USA - Tue Jul 29 20:05:22 1997
I agreee with everyone-- the green flash is a wonderful descriptive piece of the poem. The only thing I have to add to what has already been said is that an interesting facet of the green flash is that it can only be seen in extremely calm weather conditions-- when the sea is completely smooth. If you are concerned the reference is overly obscure perhaps adding a word about this fact would help readers gather significance from the context. Perhaps in the next stanza: A small green flash at sunset/ if I could find peace enough (grace, calmness, ...) to witness/its promise of a not-much redemption...? Set in your own voice I think the allusion to calm seas might add something to what you have already said. The poem, I think, stands wonderfully on its own as is, I only offer the suggestion to address your question-- and also to let you know about this aspect of the flash. I think knowledge of the flash adds to what you have said-- but I don't think anyone would even of had to of heard of it for the image to be beautiful. This is wonderfully written.
USA - Mon Jun 16 08:07:29 1997
Hi, Maggie! Keep the "green flash." "Harbor lights" is too easy of a simile. I like poems that are a bit of a challenge. I also like the "Lovers like clinkers gone cold." I think it nicely plays off the "burning love" metaphor that's so common. And clinkers go cold because they have been neglected (right? I've never had to actually deal with a coal furnace; I've just read about them!). I'm not thrilled with Stanza 2. It sounds a bit whiny. I'd leave the "family fragmented" in Stanza 1 and not elaborate. Also you use the word "inside" in Stanza 3 and Stanza 5 at the end of a line. Can you think of another word? Or perhaps you could find a way to repeat it, much as you do "not-much." Or rearrange the wording so "inside" is not the last word in the line. I like the way you used "not-much" with the hyphen. A nice touch!
Denise Lapachet Barney
Pinole, CA USA - Sun Jun 8 07:12:03 1997
The allusion to the green flash is good and forms the central image of the poem. Don't think about harbour lights. I like the music of the piece but found the om om pom in stanza 2 overdone in fact the whole stanza is somewhat maudlin. I think there are toomany 'I's I would try to condense them out . I like the clinkers gone cold and the not-much as a rhythmic device though self-pity seemed to creep in as an unwelcome sentiment. Greetings from Buckinghamshire where the green flash is seen through beech leaves.
Christopher North
Little Chalfont, BBBuck UK - Fri Jun 6 14:30:55 1997
According to my Webster's 1st ed., "clinker" is a vitrified kiln brick, so hard that it's sonorous. Since I have a passion for ceramic glazes, your image has positive connotations. I like not-much, but feel the need for variations, as much-much or yes-much. Hope your mother is better. Thanks for the pacem.
David Bennett
USA - Tue Jun 3 19:18:55 1997
Hi Maggie, I'd never heard of the "green flash" before. I read it just as a poetic image and because of that green seemed a bit cool to me. A 'last bright flash' or something akin to that would have given me a stronger message. I think you accomplished all you might have wanted in the poem. It left me with a bitter-sweet feeling. Just when I thought there might be something "wonderful" there, I was thrust unmercifully back to a "lumpish progress" and a "not-much death". If that's what you intended, then you did it well. Again, alas, I've never heard of "clinkers gone cold", though obviously that's my short-coming, not yours. So it certainly wasn't worn out to me. I had to look up 'clinkers', in fact. The poem reads again, my interpretation, like a long drawn-out sigh, and is very consistent in this regard. If that's what you wanted to convey you succeeded finely. It was also a compelling, more-than-once read. Best, Josh.
Kitchener, ON Canada - Tue May 27 11:52:34 1997
Dear Maggie, Bittersweet sentiment, nicely expressed. You could tighten up the language and cadence a bit but overall I enjoyed the read very much. Thanks.
Daniel F. Kligman
Brooklyn, NY USA - Mon May 19 15:55:35 1997
maggie: i think it is the "not-much" judgement you pass on the present that makes the possible future seem indeterminate...i think poetry demands that the thought process take you further into the point of confrontation...where you meet yourself and then envision again.
bel air, md USA - Thu Apr 24 14:54:57 1997
Maggie: The thing i noticed right away in your poem was your sucess of creating a metaphor for the millenium in a very local and personal way - I had to search everywhere for such a device for my attempt, and in the end was still forced to directly mention the millenium in a particular line. In yours, however, i notice that it is possible for the reader to substitute (as a thought experiment - not a rewrite, of course) the word 'millinium' in the first line of each stanza for the personal object you use - 'millenium'='life in stanzas 1&2; 'it'='me' in stanza 3; - and the pronouns 'it'='I' & 'itself'='myself', etc. and the entire piece still holds - the personal becomes a metaphor (albeit an indictment) for the last 1000 years! Not an easy trick to leverage a millenia from a personal reckoning - but i think you were very successful at it. My remaining coments then are in light of what i think are strengths that redeem the piece despite any shortcomings.

first to adress your own questions - Perhaps you are like me with drafts - you can see the uswept corners, but a little on the lazy side when it comes to dragging out the broom&dustpan. I think you call attention to what you've already spotted as some imaging weakness. "...clinkers gone cold" seems a fault, not so much for its anachronism as for its audiblility - it clinks in a place that thinks/reminisces - it sends a rather metalic note in a place where one might expect a dull thud, at most. I'd have preferred you stay with the accounting. The simle also exagerates the 'clink' of it. What i think very interesting and worthy is that you use the meter of the first and forth line to play off one another and enclose the meaning of the stanza. the iambic trimeter, by itself, comes dangerously close to compulsive jingle with the presence of the 'not-much' vernacular - like a 'so-so time/in a not-much life/with a pitter-patter heart/blah, blah. But, by adding the extra iamb in the fourth line you prevent the fall and add a note of finality to the lament - you add the thud - 'gone cold' as though the account book was slammed shut. I like that.

My complaint about the 'green' line would be the same, but for a different reason. It is out of place, but textually. It certainly does not derive from its refferent 'worm of grace' (we'd expect some magical property of soil, perhaps, to carry out the image). More troubling to me is that it breaks with the very personal and enclosed vision of the poem - one that is contained entirely within the narrator's self-appraisal. 'A small green flash at sunset' comes as though from some window - is an event on the horizon (hopeful, though it is) for which, in the 'room' in which the poem exists, no such oppening is mentioned. If there is to be hope here, I would be more inclined to think it authentic if it could be found within the narrator's own self-appraisal (don't ask me how, i invoke the critics priviledge!). And, perhaps the 'glimmers a worm of grace' is as much to blame - though it is an entrancing image.

Finally, and to come full circle to my interest in how the piece transcends the purely personal, without ever leaving it, there is a very personal reaction on my part to the second to last line, "That I might...". It is, to me, the crises line of the piece - from which my own expectations of hope are dashed. This, merely because of the switch in tenses - from 'might be' to 'might have done'. the existential/conditional contrast aside, how does it work for you if you 'might do something wonderful' instead of 'might have done something wonderful'. If it is the implication of possibility and hope you wish to carry - then why not commit to it? just a thought.

And the thought would then make the piece consistant in another way. If you look at the progress of the tenses in each stanza, you may note that it is only that almost-final line that violates the progress from the indefinate past to a conditional future. Unless you intended that, perhaps its something to consider. It's been a poem worth reading - i hope it was, for you, as much worth making.
red slider
Sacramento, CA USA - Fri Apr 4 23:14:02 1997
Wow, Maggie. This is beautiful. The green flash at sunset is essential! I've almost blinded myself a thousand times looking for both the green flash and the worm of grace! Really inspired. The winking whatever can't compare. The not-much life, redemption, and death tie the package together well. I had a visceral reaction to this poem--and I imagine, at the end of the century, toward the end of all our lives, this is a generally universal summation. And there is unquestionably something wonderful inside, keeping us on that lumpish course--that's what makes up for all the pain and mediocrity, what makes life worth living. Lovely message--very hopeful, I think.
Barbara Boster
san francisco, ca USA - Thu Mar 27 10:57:24 1997
Maggie! You are so honest! I cannot tell you how refershing that is, to hear someone be so honest. Sometimes I think that's the hardest thing to be. I ove the green spark at sunset mostly because I like the image (I had no idea what it meant). This is a good poem, make sure to keep it sacred.
Becca Watson
Washington,DC, USA - Thu Feb 20 14:27:06 1997
Hello. Just found this forum and your poem and thought I'd jump in with my comments.I found the thematic content of your poem most interesting. It is mature and shows great vision.I also like its form and much of the language--quite musical! Here are some random thoughts: 1. The first line is very strong! It draws me nicely into the poem. A keeper! 2. I'm not sure about the last two lines of stanza 1. The third line is relatively flat and doesn't show much--the "clinkers" has an unfortunately connotation with music. It might be the right "heating" word but it sure isn't right in terms of the image it creates! 3. The second stanza contains a lot of padding and exposition. I think it can be eliminated and thus letting the rest of the poem SHOW the relationship that you lay out in stanza 2. 3. Stanza 3 is somewhat stronger. I like not-much redemption. It is a surprising adjective. Lines 3 & 4 in that stanza fall a little flat. 4. The last stanza is quite nice and charming and the last-line comes round nicely to the first line in the poem. However, the last two lines of the poem are much longer than any other lines in the poem giving the impression that you needed to say these things but were forced into longer lines in order to stay within the confines of the 4 line stanza. Could you modify the lines to something like: having done something wonderful in progress/ toward a not-much death. Anyway, hope this helps in some small way. Best of luck with this fine poem!
Richard Luftig
Oxford,, OH USA - Sun Feb 16 16:36:14 1997
Greetings, sorry I am just beginning to get this all figured out. I like this poem. Hope you can put som hope into it. Stanz 1 Clinkers are from the coal age and more out dated than worn out. I still like it, leave it. Part of my delay here has been dealing with my 21 year old construction co. that has become a clinker. Stanza 2, Everybodys fault but mine! Leave it first person and move into a more positive self-awakening, self-taking of your own life. Now that you are aware, your life doesn't have to end in dispair. S 3, Worms glimmer? maybe glow worms. How about? There wiggles a worm of grace, A small spasam of hope. I really like the "worm of grace". The green lite aludes me. S 4, L 3 Change 'might' to 'and'. The rhymer in me really wants to rhym L 3 and 4. thus line 4 "To live the life I want to be" S 5 Implying perhaps I might be wonderful inside, And have done something wonderful, In my limping progress toward my not-much death. Hope this helps. Didn't know how to tell so showed what I felt could be a change. Take what helps and dump the rest. Thanks for having me in the group, hope I can keep up. Leroy Erzinger
Leroy Erzinger
USA - Fri Feb 14 21:33:18 1997
Maggie: What I find so refreshing is your ability to convey emotion through simplicity and yet allow the reader to understand you from your perspesctive. The emotions of guilt of burden yet with hope has energy as read by this reader. There is a sense of vulnerability that denotes strength rather than weakness. As for the green flash...never heard of it before but certainly will be something I'll look for... the line with clinker is not trite to me nor does the phrase hold a cliche as far as I'm concerned...A very nice piece...
D. Lee Kratz
USA - Mon Feb 3 11:11:03 1997
The rhythms and phrasing of this poem mark it clearly as the work of Maggie Morley. You have a very distinct voice. "There glimmers of a worm of grace" is a strong image, and with a little more framing the green light would be as well. To address your questions: The "tiny, winking harbor light" alternative is a great deal less strong than the green light. After checking clinker in the dictionary, I think "Clinkers gone cold" is not so much a tired old phrase as an unclear one. As for having an outside speaker come in later in the poem, to provide an objective perspective on what people see in the persona speaking in the poem, it could be challenging to set up. But since the single voice and perspective are so dinstinctive, I'd stay with it. I also think the promises are far more than a "not-much redemption", no matter how dim the possibilities of forgiveness are.
Trina Baker
Berkeley , CA USA - Thu Jan 30 13:13:43 1997