Poem of the Year:
May 2009-Apr 2010
Judged by Dana Goodyear
Green sunflowers trembled in the highlands of dusk and the whole cemetery
began to complain with cardboard mouths and dry rags.”
–Federico Garcia Lorca
You asked for an R, for the ripening of olives
in your garden, the red-tailed hawk
angling over the road, the path
that took you down and away
from the empty room of the body.
The R of reasons, of the ringing that breaks
in a yellow bell tower – the only sound
after the round of shots that shattered
an afternoon. And the T can only be more time,
time to be the clock or the weather vane,
the twilight through your windows
on the page, your pen once again plow
and the places you took me
where I abandoned faith.
A is alone, how you never wanted it,
preferring the company of bishop’s
weed and drowsy horses—the warm trace
of the lily and a flame
for the night with its black mouth
that sings your saeta.
G is the ghost bird that hovered
at Fuente Grande that you did not wish
to come, for the grave some say you dug
with your own hands,
empty as a mouth full of snow,
as a sky that held no moon that night
only its pure shape to stow
all the names of the dead.
"Ouija," supposedly, comes from a meeting of the French and German words for "yes"—so we can fairly translate it "yes yes." That describes a bit of what went on in my head as I read this poem: a gratified affirmation of the choices made by the poet at each turn. Any ouija poem written in the wake of James Merrill's epic "The Changing Light at Sandover" is somewhat indebted to that work; Merrill's influence operates subtley here, in phrases like "the empty room of the body" and in the slant rhyme "trace/flame." But the most gorgeous lines feel freshly observed: "A is alone, how you never wanted it,/ preferring the company of bishop's/ weed and drowsy horses." The poem—melancholy, elegiac—concludes with a sharp reminder of the insistence and inevitability of renewal. --Dana Goodyear
Now that’s a big Jesus
and it’s not how I know him at all.
Imagine living under someone’s father
image like that, looks like
he’s blocking the door. “I do this
for you, my son.” Look mister,
I’m hankering for East. I’ve done
the Berlin Wall slab, the Liberty
replica, time’s come for passing
the great white milk carton. The real
Jesus never grew old and he was skinny.
I held him once, in college. I could feel
his ribs. His heart hammered
like a ruby-throated hummingbird,
I felt the wind from his wings
for years. This big theme park
messiah, unrevolving and without
an elevator, this isn’t Jesus.
It’s his body guard. It’s the man
blocking the tunnel down
to the bomb shelters. It’s the guy
who won’t let you into the ER
to watch your mother die. It’s the cop
who holds you back on the grass
as your friends and ex-wife move
all your belongings out of the house
and into a cube van, it’s the shape
you make on the cellar floor
where you wait for the end.
The real Jesus played guitar,
bending his body around the music
like a gourd. His skin was brown
and smelled of cinnamon.
I love the spirited, folksy way this poem comes on—it's like the character who sits down next to you on the bus and surprises you with an engaging conversation. The turn comes a third of the way through, when the big-hearted, slightly loopy generalizations become suddenly intimate: "The real/ Jesus never grew old and he was skinny./ I held him once, in college. I could feel/ his ribs. His heart hammered/ like a ruby-throated hummingbird,/ I felt the wind from his wings/ for years." The voice from here forward is personal, propulsive, and angered; the energy never slackens, and yet the mystery of the encounter at the poem's heart is allowed to remain. --Dana Goodyear
The Write Idea
In a downtown park I find
a marble Eve with broken hands and feet
lying awake by a sleeping man,
where he had carried her.
Unconscious, still he keeps her
among the frost-bit weeds,
a crippled captive
to oversee his wretchedness.
New life sings in the branches,
rattles the clinging leaves,
chases the hard snow crunching
sweet as halvah, beneath my feet.
Each lengthening day the sun
climbs higher over us.
I circle here; I listen
to her muted voice.
She tells me we are naked,
lacking even skins of animals,
and having eaten of the tree of life,
we could live forever.
This poem is simple, tender, and abidingly strange. The speaker, at first detached, moves to occupy a position of centrality, as his or her perspective is increasingly identified with that of the "sleeping man" of the first stanza--an "unconscious," lonely wretch, passed out on a park bench beside a stolen, broken statue of a woman. But what sticks with me most about this poem is the haunting prophecy of its final stanza, wherein the statue speaks: "She tells me we are naked,/ lacking even skins of animals,/ and having eaten of the tree of life,/ we could live forever." --Dana Goodyear