Oblique Up from Flag Pond To the Carolina crest An asphalt serpent twists Along draws and ridges draped In the thickest nap of green, Circling higher and higher, a tongue’s Reach to open skies, fearless To look back at the emptiness Of time against stone. We are travelers, merciless In the ribless innards that crankles Us left, lurches us right, the ascent Of blue car through green ophidian— We search for the few pegs of relief, Remnants of flimsy rails, flaking White, that as we rise grow Arms which mock us with their litter That skitters the road with their bits Of rent silk crepe, black against black Patches of grief, wreathes that once hung On the markers of those who ignored The serpent’s hiss, those whose memories Are pegged to earth by lovers unwilling To forget, let go, drive on— Obi crosses that do not warn, but call The shades of long past to walk again This path of Appalachian voodoo.
Cynthia Coleman's Questions:
1. Do the name places make a difference or not, sense or not; do you
have any reference to place?
2. I, the poet, intend for place to be important to the poem, whether or not it is for the reader. What occurs in the poem is regional, yet is this occurrence universal in understanding and place unnecessary to meaning?
3. Do the word choices of ophidian and Obi cloud your understanding, or do they urge you to pick up the dictionary?
4. Do you hear the slight internal rhyme scheme?
Twilight Reel Cotton spread sprawled on dewsettled grass, A wick transilient against our skin— The damp sinks in, chills us to earth. In the subtle dichotomy of flesh, the night Air—soft, scented—slides across bare limbs, Warms us as we gaze upon the tenebrous sky, Three nights before sacred translation Of flesh into the essence of that Which hovers beyond the brim of vision. Called to evensong by stellar winds, we hear The bear’s roar, dog’s howl, leonine aspiration Diminished by the churr of bees In Cancer’s shell—we turn to listen, silenced As the moon’s full face rises, obscures All which lay hidden by night’s fall, illuminating That we are the island universe, surrounded By coupled stars that cling to each other As we embrace, unable to resist the gravity Of mutual enticement—tumbling, huddled Together against damp quilts or the black Sponge of space—an eternal dance, the deity’s Grace of carnal joy turned, turned, returned To divine ecstasy, seamless fusion into One.
Cynthia Coleman's Questions:
1. I more than often write about physics and astronomy, which this poem
refers to. Are the references too obscure?
2. The poem has stars and people coupled, as well as science and faith. Are these couplings apparent? and what do you make of them?
3. I have been criticized about my diction, that it is too elevated and macaronic; do you find examples here? Do they, elevated and macaronic, bother you?
4. Is the ending clear? Who is the "One?" How do they become one?
Turn of Tongue Even halflit, I could not see Whom these strangers were, sitting in the living Room, though told they were my family Aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandmother. All foreign to me, living up north, a row House squeezed in between its twins, heavy With queer odors, home ground sausage And piroghi; a home thick with clacking Tongues, gibberish to my southern ears. People Who looked past this little child pretending That I could not see their curious difference From me, acting as though I must be dismembered From the family tree, an uninvited guest tagging Along with longlost brother, my father. So I sat Watching them reenact family drama From long ago, sibling rivalry, pecking order, who best Pronounced the mother tongue—Lithuanian. Huddled beside my mother’s chair, a very silent Chair, uttering not a single word, churning With displacement—my mother, she tells me Play outside, and shoves me through A battle zone defenseless—I pretend Invisibility, imagine octopus arms covering eyes, Ears, mouth, scurrying me across The diagonal line to freedom, though a buzz In my ear follows me outside—the tiny Woman they say bore my father last a crinkly smile, Eyes that shone through the darkness of jabber, and a hand Leads me into the shine of outofdoors, a plop Of green in a thick tarpaper canyon, Green of grass surrounded by the deeper green Of trees, dappled underneath like the sides of rainbow Trout my father catches each spring. His mother’s hand, Plump, warm, slightly crusty, leads me to the bed Of flowers spangled with the hum of flying things Butterflies, beetles, bumble and honey bees. Her tongue clicks a sound, but I stare at her Outstretched fore finger and watch as a fat Bee hovers down between knuckles. And my grandmother Clucks at it as she strokes the tiniest wisp of bee fur, Then pulls my hand up, my forefinger to the bee And I brush the velvet of its wee yellow back; it’s poky, Springy, bristles like my old toothbrush softened. With a flick, my grandmother frees this bee and calls Another, and another, and then sets one down On my finger, its teeny feet barely felt except As it walks up and down the spine of my pointer, leaving Behind the smallest trail of gold, which Grandmother Brushes when the bee takes off. Then she takes me By the hand, leads me to the screenedin back porch Where we lay down on the sliding daybed rocking the world Into late afternoon, handinhand, these two little people With no language in between but the dance of bees.
Cynthia Coleman's Questions:
1. The opening phrase of "Even halflit," bothers me; it sounds as
though the narrator is drunk--or do you only see that now? Is it
understood that the room is dark? Does this unilluminated room bring
meaning to the poem?
2. I have had complaints about the phrase, "the tiny / Woman they say bore my father last" Do you have any? and why?
3. This poem is quite different for me--very concrete about an abstract subject--while the two above seem to me to use abstract language about very concrete occurrences. Does this conceit work?
4. Is this poem too sentimental?
Thank you for your comments on these.