House of Ash

by Mignon Ledgard
Honorable Mention, February 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes

                              “Y ha seguido, días y días,
                              loca, frenética.
                              en el enorme tren vacío,”
                                        –Dámaso Alonso

I walk into a poem that happens in a house
where a woman paces from room to room to room

She holds her head
she holds a candle and a pen
to sign her name and sign her name and
sign her name in the cold dark.

     The noise of silence
     the crowding absence
     the flickering madness.

I hear the deafened noise of Lima
on this yellow Sunday
without electricity: no sound of static
                    no piano
                    no jazz beat.

Trees serenade: their usual murmur
through Sunday-slow traffic
without the clack of castanets.

Lost to sea are the castanets
and all the books
which lightened voyages to unknown places.

Unknown places and faces without features
perceived by the ear
behind the eye that fills in the empty spaces.
My mind wanders.

My skin receives the light
and responds through its multiple eyes;
sometimes it cries
yet almost never yells.
Then it is the nose that hears.

The nose guides the wound towards
the alcohol
the gauze
the unguent.
Something inside listens.

Something inside follows and follows instructions
from ancient blueprints
to apply gentian violet
on the open skin. I unfold.

Then fold the spine to kiss his hand,
   take his feet
     one at a time,
separate each toe to clean his wound
which is my wound
which is the wound of the woman in the house.

The woman who is alone
          alone the house and the woman
                              alone he and she

—ashes turn in the mausoleum.

This is a poem that manages to hold me all the way through. Its pleasures are not a few and they have to do with the wonderful repetition, and grand imaginative leaps that are quite satisfying. The thing is that sometimes one is drawn to a poem for what is even if much of what is there does not need to be there. Here is a poem that could use a blue pencil. What would go would be the things that show the poet working too hard to be clever and to make mystery of something that in its poetic core is mysterious enough without any help. For instance, one need not overstate the “unknownness” of the places—a voyage somewhere is enough, known or unknown. In the same vein are the too clever constructions, “the noise of silence” and the “crowding absence”—which are essentially clichés and unnecessary. And the final line of the poem, decent enough (even if improbable) on its own, is something of overkill after a poem of such force and after the quite lovely title. There are also small moments of carelessness like “the deafened noise of Lima”, which, I suspect, should read, “the deafening noise of Lima”. None of this obscures the narrative of lonesomeness, aloneness, and something teetering on madness, and this is captured, not so much in the telling, but in the way thought works—the repetition: “The woman who is alone/ alone the house and the woman/ alone he and she…” --Kwame Dawes