A while back, I posted a poem that had actually been published (although, as always, I received no remuneration in reward). In that same issue of the Iowa Journal of Social Work, edited for the nonce by friend and former professor Ron Palumbo (thus his choice to publish any poetry at all and to ask me to provide a few selections) was this second poem, one which I preferred to the self-portrait.
It was into Ronʼs married student housing that I once more-or-less gently drove my brotherʼs giant Chevy when its brakes went bad while I was heading up to Iowa City for a weekend away from Ft. Madison and my teaching self. (I needed the building to bring the big behemoth to a stop.) And it was in an apartment owned by his former wife that at an alcoholic and delirious New yearʼs party I had the honor for the one and only time in my life to draw the interest of a gay friend (he hit one me). I was so tipsy I am not sure just how baffled and disoriented this overture made me (after all, just moments before — as I recall the events — we had been discussing the Bahaʼi faith), but I had to refuse as I had my eye on some lovely female at that party (with whom I got as far as that gay friend got with me — sigh). And my sigh is not for some imaginary unreal gay alternate life I might have led — just not me, I am afraid.
This poem came from that same era, when I was fresh and flush in Ft. Madison, teaching my first year and actually making my own money. I think it concerns the break-up (again) of my first big romance, colored as always with poems of that era by The White Goddess (although I think these particular trees owe much more to James Joyce and Ulysses, episode two, Nestor, which ends, “On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins”).
In the poem the sunʼs bright coins cannot buy bliss for my disheartened speaker…
And so you’re gone, a poem scarcely spoken,
leaving not even echoes of your presence in the air.
You were a witch, but now the spell is broken —
you’ll master other faces, weaving others through your hair.
All the seasons will recall you, voice and eyes:
still leaves and sunlight spangle wealth from atmosphere,
but such gold coins fill no more pockets (fancied lies),
chlorophyll and photons untranslated. You are not here.
You were the Earth, Gæia, autumn crocus-kissed.
A solar music hummed about your liquid motion,
and all our days were vibrant with the oaken risk
of time and bodies. I knew that love transcends emotion.
Well be now done with me: I never noticed trees, together.
So you take the sun as well, love is like the weather.
Published in the Iowa Journal of Social Work
20 April 1976
Imaginary rewards for those who noticed itʼs a sonnet, one of my first successful ones.
I think the belovedʼs “liquid motion” owes much (or is an allusion, of course) to Theodore Roethkeʼs poem, “I Knew a Woman” (and itʼs also worthwhile to click the link and read his glorious villanelle, “The Waking” — itʼs worth reading all his verse).
My pseudo-scientific self shines through, hinting at the clarified direction into which I would head once I left Ft. Madison behind and moved to Maquoketa (and which owes as much to my love of science fiction as the influence of my science-teaching father), in the ”chlorophyll and photons untranslated” bit. I remember liking the seasonal conflation in “autumn crocus-kissed” (which sounds a bit artsy-fartsy to me now), and the phrase “of time and bodies” which sounds so portentiously (and prophetically!) like the culture of literary theory criticism just then being hatched (in French) for me to discover when I took my Modern Criticism course at St. Ambrose five years later (and under which so many have slaved these long tyrannical decades since to acquire undergraduate degrees in literature).
I am not sure I approve the punctuation in the last line any longer, but I donʼt know how to improve it any more than I did thirty-four years ago. The ending is also trite and wrongheaded — by which I mean false to truth and reality. But maybe thatʼs what I want this speaker to sound like (regardless how much he was once me). Love isnʼt like the weather (unless you emphasize the principles of physics and meteorology all combined to create the someday calculable natural forces that shape the weather on a necessary and unavoidable scientifically determined path — and so far so far beyond our human ken).
My favorite item in the poem is the bit of Greek-chorus wisdom (on which I should expand and expatiate as I did to all those Andrew English students for so long) that love is something more than a feeling or emotion. Because it is.
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.