* w. s. merwin & the friday influence

Dusk in Winter – W. S. Merwin

The sun sets in the cold without friends
Without reproaches after all it has done for us
It goes down believing in nothing
When it has gone I hear the stream running after it
It has brought its flute it is a long way

***

 This week on the Influence: W. S. Merwin!

What I love about Merwin’s poem above is how he gets in so much into a few lines.  Not only the brevity but the subject matter.

We are told that the best novels throughout history deal namely with family/love relationships, that there is so much to said within those frames of humanity.  Equally, poems are said to be about either love, life, or death.

What the stock objects – rain, leaves turning colors, rivers flowing, waiting in line at a grocery store – serve are to open up something everyone can identify with while following along with the poet to see how it is they see it.

That personal take on things – whether it is evoked in turns of phrase or particular images and narrative – is the fingerprint on the poem, the echo of the soul passing through the words (through the world, through the reader), what it is that teaches and awes in a poem.  It is the hardest thing to achieve: singularity, an indelible presence.

Merwin’s work in translation (his Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems has been the standard for years) comes through here in the way he turns a sunset into a fable of sorts, works the images down into the emotions they evoke.  The starkness created by not having punctuation cues me in as a reader to engage with the poem, to follow the logic of the phrasing as it unfolds, each turn a little surprise along the way.

***

rains, yo

The rainy season has officially begun here in Eugene.  In honor, here’s one more by Merwin:

To the Rain – W. S. Merwin

You reach me out of the age of the air
clear
falling toward me
each one new
if any of you has a name
it is unknown

but waited for you here
that long
for you to fall through it knowing nothing

hem of the garment
do not wait
until I can love all that I am to know
for maybe that will never be

touch me this time
let me love what I cannot know
as the man born blind may love color
until all that he loves
fills him with color

***

Happy filling!

J

(photograph found on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/sep/26/poster.poems.rain.poetry)

* re-acquaintances & memory lane

I recently reconnected with an aunt of mine.

On the surface, this is no big deal.  Except the nice lady in question is the last living blood relative I have connected with my father.  I mean, she might know his actual birthday.

The last time Pilar, my aunt, and I saw each other, my grandmother – mother to her and my father – had died.  I spent the day with her and her family going around the neighborhood collecting stories about him.

Then she handed me what photographs she had of him.  I had never seen these photos, never seen so much of my father.

We lost touch after that visit.  It’s been eight years.

Finding each other again is a big deal because my father’s side of the family is riddled with men who leave or go missing.

In honor of our re-acquaintance, I have decided to share a poem I wrote a little after my grandmother’s death.

The line about the whispers of tough gossip is Pilar wondering after her brother.

***

Two Years *

 

In a house with only a front and back door,

The rooms separated by bed sheets,

A television that only worked at night,

When it wasn’t windy,

When it didn’t rain,

And a crucifix above the kitchen sink,

My grandmother would fill bottles with water and sugar

And watch over me as I ate in my sleep,

My mouth chewing dreams that would never fill me up.

 

Eyes puddled with dark rings would look down,

Bags the color of beaten and bruised fruit;

Her hands, brown and thin with veins

Like cross hatched branches,

A tree named Augustina

Would hold me, pour water over me

In the same place she peeled potatoes.

 

I never knew her name til I was eight.

On the phone, there was more static than I knew words in Spanish.

There was a photograph, paper swollen and smooth,

Picture blurry and dull,

A smile the color of headlights at night.

 

What face did I make as she passed me around,

Miren Angel, look at my son’s boy,

My father, the fisherman

Who let his son grow up not knowing how to swim,

His footsteps on the whispers of tough gossip,

Like dust being swept across the floor,

No longer the imprint of a foot,

No longer there.

 

Tina, I have seen buildings fall and the morning grow gray with smoke,

I have seen deserts explode through the green eye of the television,

I have seen a man hit in the mouth with his own gun,

I have seen women scream because men with broken bottles in their hands

            Don’t know better or don’t care,

I have seen love in a bruised face,

A pair of heavy eyes,

Your eyes —

 

Skin crinkling like burning leaves —

 

And I wish the metaphors could stop,

I wish I was Jesus,

That when I laid my hand down

It meant more to me than words,

More to you than an unfamiliar tongue,

Sounds you can’t understand

Stretched out in scribbles, curled

Like hair on a newborn’s head.

***

Happy scribbling!

J

* an earlier version of this poem appeared in Glyph, the literary journal of the College of Santa Fe