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Apr
20
2024
Literary Arts

Emergent Verse | Private matters

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Readers may remember Audrey Hackett as not only a former reporter for the Yellow Springs News, but also the writer of “First Lines,” a poetry column she penned for a couple of years. When I agreed to accept the baton and try to continue the good work she’d begun, I quaked a little to consider what large shoes I had to fill — not only because of her insightful takes on submitted poems, but also because she is a master poet at the peak of her powers.

As you’ll see below, Audrey’s poems are deeply layered, with clear, accessible surfaces overlying spiritual, even mystical, themes.

In Early June
The mulberry tree bristles with fruit
and the birds swoop in and out
like thoughts drawn to forbidden things.

Under those green leaves,
some lacy, some like misshapen hands,
loosened fruits drop
with soft thuds onto the grass.

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Soon the doe will come. She will chew
with delicate pursed lips,
a side-to-side motion
above a whiskered chin
like the mastication of the very old
set within a face

beautiful as a tawny woman’s
nuzzling the spoiling
sweet mystery.

Bird
No feathers, barely a sense
of wings, eyes just
blue callouses
above a dinosaur beak.

Pitched out of the nest
onto the grass,
then carefully, with a small shovel,
put two layers down
inside the yard waste pile.

I lie. I cupped it in my palm,
carried it under the arbor vitae
—the tree of life I’d dreamt I’d lost you behind—
and scooped a shallow hole
and laid it there
and marked the spot
with stone.

“In Early June” rewards the reader’s desire for sensory delights with mulberries, lacy green leaves and the does that feed on them. I love the music of “loosened fruits drop/with soft thuds onto the grass.” I hear them gently plopping, almost — like Audrey’s words — too quiet to be heard. (Yet with what delicious, delicate weight!)

In lesser hands, the poem might have ended (rewardingly) with the wonderful comparison of the doe’s “side-to-side” munching to “the mastication of the very old/set within a face.” But no, the face transforms into a “tawny” beauty “nuzzling” (great verb!) the “spoiling” (soon to rot if not consumed) “sweet mystery.” Finding and eating mulberries becomes nothing less than the imbibing of life’s essence. Audrey’s mysteriously open lines allow for a wide range of interpretation and delight.

In her final column in 2021, Audrey wrote, “I love the privacy of a poem. It’s a privacy where you encounter someone else.” Her second poem, “Bird” is, I believe, just such a private poem, in which I encounter another person in a private experience deeply reflecting my own.

Many will relate to finding a dead bird, fallen from the nest before it grew feathers — an experience that can powerfully evoke human sympathy for the fragility of life. If it happens to us, our choices are to simply leave the creature alone, place it somewhere to decompose or dispose of it in a more self-comforting ritual. Initially, the narrator seems to take the first route. Then the poem hits the brakes and does a 360-degree turn. Either in reality or imagination (we’re headed toward dream), she cups and carries it beneath the arbor vitae (meaning “tree of life” in Latin) to bury. The tree of life, sacred in almost every religion, symbolizes immortality, fecundity and eternality.

The poem’s arbor vitae becomes “the tree of life I’d dreamt I’d lost you behind.” At that point, for me, the veil parts and the poem enters liminal (transitional) space. Who is “you?” Surely not the tiny creature who’s an “it” in the line above. In the spiritual context, the poet might be addressing God. However, she could also be alluding to an earlier human loss, which the bird’s death reminds her of. Since the loss of “you” occurred in a dream, it could be anyone, even her own ego. Dreams are often ego-shattering, Jungians maintain, since they both mirror and comment on dreamers’ lives.

What matters is that, in the ritual act of burying a fellow creature, the intensely private has become public and universal. This small loss represents many losses, the poet’s as well as my own. It’s a Big Moment. I linger, savoring words and images, pondering mystery. Until I find myself ushered gently back to everyday reality by the concrete simplicity of “shallow hole … marked with a stone.”

In both of Audrey’s fine poems, I feel important business transacted between visible and invisible worlds. To say more would disrupt the silence and stillness with which the poet has blessed us.

*Send me your poems at edavis903@sbcglobal.net.

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