At Last Ghazal

by Greta Bolger
The Waters
Third Place, March 2022
Judged by Terence Culleton

Once we were young, longed to be grown and move away at last,
dreamed of escape, no one to tell us what to say at last.

Beach towels and beer and birth control. We rocked, smoked,
and caroused. Eventually, we became “they,” wildness at bay at last.

Buttoned up and buttoned down, we ran toward reputation,
worked far too hard for decades till we found our nay at last.

Two-piece pantsuits to Goodwill. Cocktail dresses shredded.
Parade wear went with Derby hats. We left the fray at last.

Into every life, they say, some acid rain must fall. For us,
an endless deluge. Pray for calm to stay at last.

Who knows how long the mottled story will go on?
The plot went wrong, pink fairy tale a grey cliché at last.

Old now, yes, but coffee, toast, warm silence and white wine,
paint, friends and friendly avatars. Big G’s mainstays. At last.

Form and content are closely wedded in this piece. The triple falling-rhythm rhyme linking the second lines of the couplets also links the first and last lines of the whole poem in ironic contrast: “move away at last” yields, in the end, to “-stays at last.” The formal premises of the poem, far from being restrictive, fully enact the cycle the poem wryly and mournfully notes, in which “[t]he plot went wrong, pink fairy tale a grey cliché at last.” The repeton—“at last”—gains in meaning with each return, which is the way refrains and rhymes work in formal poetry, as often in free verse as well. Repetition, while pleasing as a circling round, also functions as a cycling through. And, of course, the constant reappearance of “at last,” with its suggestion of finality, demonstrates the poem’s pervasive sense that, though for any individual the cycle ends, on a larger scale it is a kind of eternal recurrence, and “[w]ho knows how long the mottled story will go on?” --Terence Culleton