Friday, March 14, 2008

Duke Altum's POTM #61

If anyone were to ask me why it is I read, and continually attempt to comprehend, poetry, I might well refer them to these passages from a longer poem by Galway Kinnell. Kinnell is one of America's greatest living poets by any standard, and is still writing strong in his 70's (his last collection was released just this past year, with its title lifted ingeniously from Whitman: Strong is Your Hold).

There are moments when I sitting at night, reading a few poems because shorter pieces seem about all my tired brain can handle, when all the crap and clutter of the day is sliced through cleanly by mere words arranged on a page.. . words, however, that seem to function almost sacramentally, that draw forth from the heart's hard and crusty ground a sprout of insight, a small flower of truth. It might take the form of a memory, or a recognition from my own experience... or it could be something totally new to me, a revelation with a small "r." But these brief lightning-flashes of transcendence the great poets are mysteriously able to offer is what keeps me coming back to the well, thirsting for more...

These three numbered stanzas from a longer poem called "Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight" are a perfect example of what I'm talking about. This long and beautiful meditation on parenthood and memory penetrated my still-maturing father's heart repeatedly with shafts of light. Do I know exactly what each line means? Of course not. But something within me, at a level deeper than mere knowledge, glows dully in faint recognition of an earned wisdom.



You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.


In the light the moon
sends back, I can see in your eyes
the hand that waved once
in my father's eyes, a tiny kite
wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look:
and the angel
of all mortal things lets go the string.


Back you go, into your crib.

The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
Your eyes close inside your head,
in sleep. Already
in your dreams the hours begin to sing.

Little sleep's-head sprouting hair in the moonlight,
when I come back
we will go out together,
we will walk out together among
the ten thousand things,
each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages
of dying is love.


Cathy said...

Thanks so much for those beautiful verses, and for your thoughtful introduction to the poem and poetry as a whole. I am very hesitant to comment on poetry myself, partly because of my limited understanding and partly because I am afraid my words could attach to the poem (in my mind at least) and bring it down. But that first stanza resonated with me, as recently while Brooke was falling asleep hugging me, I had this deep sense of "don't you realize that I do not have this strength that should make you feel so safe and comforted?" But God made it this way between parents and children, and hopefully she will soon transfer her dependence directly to Him.

On the subject of children, congratulations on the news of your little girl!

Duke Altum said...

Cathy, I truly appreciate ALL of your comments on these pages! I have been reading them and especially liked your thoughtful reflections after Jude's essay on Brett Favre - you certainly took the discussion to another level there (in the best way!).

I understand your hesitation about commenting on poetry, believe me - "Mutt" says the same thing to me and I myself am resigned to the fact that I don't understand much of what I am reading when I read poetry. But its unique ability to penetrate, every now and then, directly into the heart of our own experience - just as you described here, with Brooke - to me is proof enough that it is worth thinking about and discussing (and reading, of course). Sometimes I will read a few lines and all separation between the poet's great wisdom and experience and my very limited perspective comes crashing down... and I say, "Yeah, I can relate to that. I can see that. That's me." or, "I've lived that too."

That tremendous feeling of inadequacy that comes over us parents, especially in moments of great grace where we feel we have blessed with so much more beauty than we could ever deserve, is a blessing in its way because it reminds of our own brokeness and reliance upon God for everything...

And thank you very much for your congratulations, we are THRILLED adn overwhelmed to have been blessed with a girl of our own!! I musy say I personally am a little intimidated, having been a father or all boys for SO long, but it will be good for me I am sure...

Blessings to your family!