How Soft is the Blackness that Cannot Bring Me Joy

by Ellen Kombiyil
Blueline
Honorable Mention, August 2008
Judged by Tony Barnstone


Day dawns, bright as chrysanthemums.
I am balanced on the brink of the earth.
Somewhere else, light fades
on the edge of chalk-white cliffs.
I can taste them, dry as death.
Nightingales sing the last song of night.
If only I could graze your arm,
your imagined scent still clinging to the pillow.
I try to remember but not to think,
that’s what Jesse Jackson says
when he remembers Memphis.
I’d like to adopt a philosophy like that.
Philosophy is meaningless when sun hits the empty pillow.
I was young when I met you bling-blinging at the party
to the sounds of revamped disco.
Night tasted of sweat and you’d forgotten my name
because I wore my best dress.
How soft is the blackness that cannot bring me joy
you said, or something like that.
The elusive smoke of giddiness
crept into our heads
and love was like a funeral.
We fell through earth
and swam out upside down the other side.
Little Boo spelunked the forests,
convinced I was vanished.
I hadn’t said au revoir or sounded a warning note.
Years from now I will write a song
and you will not hear it
shaking the forsythia, their drab bells
having forgotten your name.
Your name means ‘ocean’ or ‘lake,’
or ‘teeming with life’, or ‘vessel,’
and I remember what water sounds like
only when it rains:
the river widens its mouth;
the forsythia sings hallelujah.
Ca ne fait rien,
it was so long ago and morning
empties through porch windows
to echo in the parlor.


Although this poem tries to get away with one cliché (“Dry as death”), it’s great strength is in the surprise and strangeness of its surges and shifts of image and mind. I fell in love with funny lines like ““I was young when I met you bling-blinging at the party / to the sounds of revamped disco,” and surreal emotional images such as,

The elusive smoke of giddiness
crept into our heads
and love was like a funeral.
We fell through earth
and swam out upside down the other side.

“Philosophy is meaningless when sun hits the pillow,” eh? Okay. And yet this poem’s erotic, emotional journey is more about experiencing the Zen flash and holding back thought in a less discursive way, about the sound of water you remember when it rains, about sunlight emptying “through porch windows / to echo in the parlor.” I like this poem’s tenderness, and its very peculiar movements of mind and syntax. --Tony Barnstone

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