Friday, June 03, 2022

Red Letter Poem #113

 In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – SteveRatiner



Red Letter Poem #113




Stasis: “the state of equilibrium or inactivity caused by opposing equal forces.”  Like that brief pause between the back-and-forth of a housepainter’s brush.  Like that childhood urge to climb higher, countered by the unrelenting pull of gravity, leaving you temporarily transfixed on your perch.  Like the need of a conscious mind to hold the world in abeyance at times – even while the poet’s temperament would opt for opening the floodgates and letting thought and emotion come rushing in.  So, in order to claim a moment’s quiet, the speaker in Christopher Jane Corkery’s poem observes the painter at work – not even the whole painter, but that portion visible through the frame of her window.  And the mind is stilled by the simple beauty of perception, by that life-long practice that allows words to coalesce into a clear picture, brimming with possibility.  “Yet briefly, no one is sick, and fate/ declines for this half-hour to announce a thing” – and suddenly the emotional valence is multiplied.  At the time, the poet’s household had experienced its share of calamities, and this thought, this poem, provided something of a respite.  And though this piece – taken from Christopher’s last book (Love Took the Words; Slant Books) – pre-dates the pandemic, doesn’t it resonate with something most of us have been feeling, and far-too-often: a desperate need to make it all stop, just long enough so we can catch our breath?


Christopher has the ability to craft poems that pulse with color, action, subterranean streams of emotion while, at the same time, helping the mind to achieve a moment of stasis where it can reflect on that mysterious confluence – observation, memory, and dream – forces that we instantly recognize as human (not to mention the workings of the mind’s own ineluctable machinery.)  She published her first poem in Southern Poetry Review in 1977 and has appeared widely in journals ever since.  She’s been awarded a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the St. Botolph Club Foundation, and the MA Artists Foundation.  She’s currently at work on her third collection, begun at the American Academy in Rome where she was a visiting artist in early 2020 before the pandemic drove us all into seclusion.  In addition to being a poet, she's also a doting grandmother and a sculler who has competed numerous times in the Head of the Charles Regatta.


I love how there is often a still point inside my favorite poems, hovering between what we know and what is unknowable – the carefully-crafted language helping us toward a greater acceptance of that decidedly human predicament.  And the emblems of that awareness – two roads diverging in an autumn New England wood; the pale Parisian faces rising from the dark of the Metro; or even a painter’s well-turned ankle glimpsed on a hot summer day – they seem to remain inside our consciousness, almost as they were our own creation.  And now, reading silently, they are.



Painter on Scaffolding in Summer



Inside the house, all I can see

are the painter’s legs from waist down.

And I am struck by his delicate ankles;

it is August, and hot, and he wears no socks.

On his feet old lace-up oxfords --

the elegance of it! Strong legs, and the barest

horizontal motions in the torso

as he edges clapboards. Back. Forth.


Why this seems hopeful I do not know.

Yet briefly, no one is sick, and fate

declines for this half-hour to announce a thing.

And I remember you standing at ease

after a race, the center of your chest moving,

not seeming to move.



                         – Christopher Jane Corkery 





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