Note: Today I am doing something out of the ordinary and giving my space over to Lynn Strongin, whom I worked with in my days as managing editor of New Works Review about a decade ago and whose work, since then, I have occasionally commented on in this blog. I have always found her poetry, in particular, stunning in form and beauty as well as full of significance. Beyond that, I will let the poet’s own brief introductory notes – and this wonderful series of linked poems that follows – speak for themselves:
Poet’s comments and credits: I got the inspiration for this from the Monterey Senior Centre’s flyer for summer. “Saturday Afternoon Taffetas” is the name of one event, or group. so it is nostalgic in impulse. But then I take a good hard look at that bland-land of the fifies and see it with an ironic sharper eye than nostalgia would encourage. As Roethke says, “I have stolen these things from sleep, partly”: This feeling exists partly in time, partly in dream. One floats thru the poems. There is the nickelodeon. There is also the desire to live “transcendently” or slicing thru time but not with a knife: with a soft rustle of taffetas so that the rainbow colors on this particular type of silk can shine over the whole scene. But the transcendent always slips away and we are left here on earth “to defend our toys” which are our books, our bicycles, our paintings: all that composite of earthly pleasures which holds us together.
I have had poems published this past year mainly in Australia’s Otoliths, edited by Mark Young https://the-otolith.blogspot.com. Brett Alan Sanders and Mark Young have chosen poems which have a strand of vision in common: these are poems which try for transcendence of earthy things by representing a visionary view of the whole. Call it magical realism in poetry. One of the poems in Otoliths (Issue fifty-one, part one, southern spring, 2018) is “Foundling Hospital,” which begins: “FOUNDLING HOSPITAL STANDS in Lamb’s Conduit Field / London” and this echoes my own hospital stay in 1951 upstate New York.
Saturday Afternoon Taffetas
Feelings exist in time, and in a dream
The things I steal from sleep are what I am.
— Theodore Roethke
SATURDAY AFTERNOON TAFFETAS , the fifties, blandland opening out into depression
In wave upon wave
The carousel even greyed out:
An ash bloom covers all we love as if the war blew over from Europe and sifted its crematory ash upon us
Moving forward, passionately, desperately wielding pastel balloons like swords:
Here are boys with bright red ones like the blood they draw from a nail on a fall.
Here are pale pink ones for girls with rag curls a black nanny took half an hour to put in.
Put another nickel in to the Nickelodeon
All I want is loving you like music mowed music.
Nausea, the child clutching her stomach after the fair.
The Kewpie doll never greets to be hers
Nor does she ever
Ever grab the gold ring from the carousel’s center.
Always bridesmaid never bride:
Which a mouthful of metal is too much for daddy to afford.
In fact, mummy can’t afford daddy any more
& shoves him out the back door
to be piled with the garbage in vast black bags.
Where is the gold?
Mother came home tired & took off her hat at the stove.
So the wrath, the colors Saturday afternoon taffetas
petrel flying south
like the deepest shove toward love may tire, but never grow old.
THE PETREL FLIES NORTH
Old skills curling up like dried apple rings.
Your face darkens tenderly at what you see in me:
A quality of devotion that can make the secular sacred:
The lamp with rip in silk shade which mother bought in one of my bouts
Tearing in the shape of a country, what country? Maybe Italy, maybe Spain
Pay truly strict attention.
My poems just manage to be unwavering
As the quality of love’s gaze.
If it weren’t for you, the yearning for connection,
The instant of love I would want to lie down forever & a day with only iron city’s crown.
LIGHT DISAPPEARS IN YOUR EYES like an island, sinking:
Love’s strict, small land
Unwavering as a lit match
Its reflection a palsy, silvery tremor.
Compelling dramas come out of small moments, living as a foundling, “Is it true, a priest is a house lit up?”
Trying to become visible
After a life dependent on not being stared out.
Cattedrale de Redemptor
My recollections blur:
by silver-nitrate water.
To endure vision one must burn.
To receive love one must turn
From all earthly things
Unto the road to Emmaus where Christ will be crucified
Until one realizes in a split-second it is the tawny, the barefoot poverty-stricken redeemer who has been casting a shadow, a holy linkage
finger tips touching, beside them all along,
I KEEP having visions re-visions:
Orangeries, southern country: France to the lower parts, Spain
Turning one page of my life from Italic back to Garamond, then Iowa book face
Yes! Nail on the head, hit the jackpot:
Plainness, like good stout Indigo cloth, is my home, my core.
Weather turns rain into ice leaves fail
The whole land is carpeted in brilliant chain-
Mail darkening at dusk.
There is a musk to the peach smell
In this room?
Thing links to think.
Voice to noiselessness
A caress to loss:
Like a monk’s almost barren life
Devoid of person
Aside from the one writing who will never see the self except in reflection.
COUNTING TIME LIKE LOOPS OF ROPE
I recall braiding my cousin’s hair, large curls of shiny coal.
This is the quiet that follows the storm session
Like shadow the child.
Congealed ice makes another child: the one I held
Now melted by early sun
But can be resurrected again at first touch of warmth.
Once when I was free, unbroken
The words need hardly be spoken. . .
I turn back my French cuff you phone
Like the fool I must find the button: but instead am half-
Finding the right
Light bringing it home
(we are the shadows where the bees swarmed)
we are the smoke burned:
Counting loops of rope
Circle locked in circle
All thoughts of love which should, but do not, bring reprieve.
Misery, pain in the butt a rifle pointing me out of this room
Into an annex a messenger:
Like Carrie Ten Boom who was butted out & crouched for years till she re-formed her spine
Deformed into the letter “S” for Sorrow, for Salvation
By the time she unfolded herself like a giraffe from a nap
Like a tall person from a chair she had memorized a lexicon of poems
On cigarette-scarred vellum paper. Hence, she learned
The alphabet backward & forward
Stark bloody naked: and Carrie, she
went for the time in years having served her term
To enter the remains, blind-forwarded, to freedom.
I AM IN SEARCH of the transcendent,
Because I almost found it once as a child.
Slippery as a trout it would slide away.
That rare person, a quiet American, am I
Destined to live among shadows, be counted one of them
As I enter the labor of little roses to bloom
Musical tone, a voice with character
Skinny shadow like the kid I was: destined to
By a sickbed
In a darkened room.
I MUST DO what I was born to do:
Make lightning flash with a question.
Why do we see each other so little?
Thru glass, thru morning, thru evening’s lightning
& nightfall’s burning off the chill sorrow with lamplight or oil.
But oil can ignite.
You are young in that you can lift a sparrow woman filled with oceans of love
Small lakes now
But shrunk as only velvet or silk does.
Can we ignite sand paper?
My virus is six-sided a crystal with voice
Like that of a choirboy before it drops
The crystal sings. His hands circling his mouth, his voice box unshattering:
Is the difference between human beings & God that God cannot stand continuance
Makes the heart beat
The waterwheel sweep water blue as sky
No sooner were you a young man, happy than the nature of things rushed into fatherhood, martyrdom, now old age
Which is a disease.
All your life you were striving to hold fast the moment
Up against a major force: the art nothing but the trying to catch the one moment
Mood, one light, momentary beauty of one flower, one woman. You can still fish. Can still love.
In the true spirit of the Lord, leap up amid a whirlpool of change.
THE TRANSCENDENT ALWAYS SLIPS AWAY slides as silk, as the doe in your hands while you try to rescue her
Thus threatening the mother will fright & light away into further bushes.
Is God in back of it all?
Am I threatened with a fall?
A call from the beyond
Made me, as a girl, bound
Into boyish ecstasy.
Now at eighty
I count hoops for zeros all years: fears, tears
The transcendent slips away, a vapor, like a cup of tea.
On one side of the mirror me
On the other—do I know that thee
Less solid than vapor
Must I step into the ring
Of cooling fire
After the burn of a life
Is scalded away:
Only the solid remains
An unmistakable knife.
FLASH POINT a liquid’s lowest temperature of ignition
I step thru day, with the permission
Two lost in childhood one gained
Making memory freeze frames everlasting.
It is all wrong to imagine paradise as never-changing bliss:
It is the table set for two
Evening falling like a ladder we must climb
To get out of haze
Two knives, two forks, two spoons:
It is anger cooling at loss running, a grayish thread, thru the hours:
It is hunger at nothing but bread & tea.
It is one memory after another climbing the tree
Like a celestial monkey.
It is the ponder
Heart which will rise
As the lover flashes on the eye:
Or host but love
It is invitations:
Lower than longing:
Kiss, another kiss: it is nothing other:
It is this.
ANY THOUGHT OF HUSBANDS vanished long ago
An elegant stave The Saturday Afternoon Taffetas:
But not like iron.
Give me your undivided attention
What came true was one of the tales in “Canterbury” but nun, cleric—all combine now
To tell me one brilliance, a stained glass fairy story.
I climb down the remaining one story of childhood
Into cool air
Like mist on the limbs of a lover.
I ride the dream pony of night toward land further than sight:
These imagined gospels are not four
But many more.
I would not be outfoxed by paralysis.
I rose I rise I give a lover’s kiss:
I seize the tree branch as it cracks
We both float in water: hair of coal, of flax:
Am I son? Or daughter?
By my voice, daughter. By my ardor something utterly other.
IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE OPENING YOUR EYES on waking
I do too.
If anxiety peaks like a roof I do too:
I have a slur in my speech, a halt like a boy readying to leap a hurdle, pumping energy
Heart hard-beating, a trip hammer.
When my speech broke was it a mini stroke?
That closet you flash open which looms & lights back a field of gold garments
Is collected against despair;
I bought, after a bout of spinal pain, that
Gold silk vest from twice-around assembled, like index card to read, quite near sweaters of every color for every soul food, each mood: in a mustard color from “My Sister’s Closet.”
I wear my tunic on dark days walking straight toward the rain:
It’s like two people falling in love separated by a border.
Couplets are like lovers: I speak the lines again & again.
Am I a Francis at heart, the holy fool?
To be the spiritual dumps requires energy: pumping biceps to pull yourself up
Where there is a glory like a halo about: here,
Holy weeds line my grandmother’s attic:
Each shot is a mystic’s dream-prayers, dream-shout.
I AM HERE TO DEFEND my toys
The petrel must fly north
We are born to die: you and I.
The kids here just discuss how to paint the past
Over a campfire
Flames reflected in canvas
Death on its way
But who could see
The stallion start & snort?
It was an ashen cindery day:
I could taste both.
We are the smoke when the bees disappear:
Saturday Afternoon Taffetas
Legs that walk before polio took soap to a pure reflection of a child
Her legs cut off like a paper doll’s
Yet I am here
At eighty still to defend my joys:
The Kewpie doll I never won
The boys untaken the untaken boys
The final gasp of a child crying, she could still walk
Her windpipe was being born: it was nonetheless God coming close, closer, ecstasy’s broken toys.
BELIEVE IN GOD THE WAY YOU BELIEVE IN ICARUS & starlight
Foolproof reading by authors for prize.
Who will be my companion on this grief journey?
Not thee, nor thee, nor thee
Eating Pride week pancakes: doted with sugar crunchies, rainbow speckles.
Send my roots rain.
We need each other.
Pilgrim, you are bruised & wounded
I am dreaming of stones
The heavy shoulders of a life with the cello.
After my year as a mystic I remember praying, why part?
She writes, aged over seventy “You never got over me. I thought I got over you.”
Is this a game of silence? Or throwing stones, small ones?
A heart which relents
observes Sundays which still exist in time:
We are moth-lovers
We pray in & outside. We pray in snow, in rain:
Between midnight & dawn
There are small talks with God
Until the belief in God & Icarus takes a plunge
Scatters stars of foam.
British Columbia, Canada
© Lynn Strongin 2019