Friday, May 11, 2007

Occasional poetry

Yesterday, while I was slogging up a long slow rise on Mercer Island, I started thinking about a bike poem—a very tongue-in-cheek type of prayer poem. I don't know whether it will work, but it must be funny (I tell you, I look pretty funny by about mile 7, with my face all red and gasping).

It's too rough still to post here—to rough even to qualify as a draft—but I started thinking about some of the other poems that I've written for special situations, special people, and special occasions.

Always, for me, there is an initial stretch of panic, followed by a dry spell and one or several starts before I'm able to find the right balance between the event or the person and what the poem itself wants to stay.

I've found that some of them work out better than others. For some of those efforts, their merit lies more in their presence as a gift than in an poetic power or craft. And sometimes they come out really strong!

But I was thinking how even if those poems don't really stand on their own after the day is done, they are written for their audience, and they reach their audience—and how often does that happen?

I've written few poems for birthdays (one that I wrote before my middle child was born—and then I saved it for 15 years) and a couple of poems for weddings. I'm posting one here, which was written for my sister's wedding:


After a meal and a moment,
you enter the wide evening,
turn east toward lilac dusk
and the steep flights
to Hunter Boulevard.

The city unfolds below you
like a fan of watered silk
or a deck of cards.

Take a breath, deeply.

You have held your hands close,
drawing for two of a kind,
keeping an ace in your cuff.

A train’s descant, parting sorrow,
rises over Beacon Hill,
settles like thin rain,
the echoes of a saxophone.

Breathe deeply. Sing.

In the measures of music,
you meet a language
for desire and trust,
map chords or discord
to a treasured resolution.

Twilight strikes a solemn key,
matches the color of morning
and you trace the sun’s descent
into the valley, the old high school
gone rose in the day's denouement.

Take a breath. Say Yes.

It’s not the stairs you’ve counted,
but the steps ahead.
You find a pace that fits
to walk in all weather.

How about you? Do you write poems for family and friends and special occasions? How do you approach that project?

P.S. This was written as a follow-up poem to "The Fine Art of Measurement." I don't have a direct link to that poem online, but it was published in Weathered Steps (Rose Alley Press).


Judith Skillman said...

I like the idea that when we write "occasional poetry" we reach out to a unique audience of, perhaps, one. In that "transaction" there is a kind of grace because the writing is done for someone special without any hope of publication, though a side effect can occur. I'm going to try and copy a poem in here that I wrote for my Aunt Peggy--an elegy--when she died suddenly of a stroke. My uncle said he appreciated it very much. I read it at her memorial service a few years ago, and he (my Uncle Myer) had it published in a journal local to the Vancouver, B.C. University of UBC community where he lives.

OK, if I manage to sign in then I'll find that poem...

Judith Skillman said...

I found it...if this is too long of a comment let me know!

I Remember Peggy

Her ready laugh, her hands always busy
with topographies and calendars.

I recall the way she took me under her wing
in Paris, talked about culture shock,

stood with me at the train station
on my first day at the lycee.

Later, at a flea market in a small town,
she bought me a wool coat

with wooden clasps.
That coat had no lining, its plaid

chafed my skin but I loved
the color—oranges, browns, and ivories

plaited together. I remember the way
Peggy went to the city to find her yoga class,

ventured out each day to buy
veal, butter, baguettes, and lemons.

At dinner the wine, a Beaujolais,
was warm and red. When Sid died

Peggy never uttered platitudes,
she was aware of grief in all its nuance.

Her death was tzadik—Bobbie would say—sainted,
as was her life. Let’s learn what we can

of her forests, her arts, and affirmations.
She was the first to map Whistler’s faces,

and now this territory many of us scarcely know,
in the middle of our years, how to recognize.