Friday, November 12, 2021

The Red Letter Poem Project 84

 The Red Letter Poem Project


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.


                                                                                                – Steven Ratiner




Red Letter Poem #84



It’s an old expression, offered up to pregnant women: you’re eating for two now.  It came to mind recently, but with a rather strange twist: I feel like I’m seeing for two now.  Two months back, my cousin Lenny died – suddenly, far too young, and just as he was about to open a whole new chapter in his life.  The shock has not worn off.  Growing up together, he was the closest thing I ever had to a brother.  And since that loss, it’s my impression that I’ve been seeing extra – or at least trying to – in order to keep Lenny in mind.  Sometimes I’ll intentionally slow down thought in order to savor the small pleasures of the day: the smell of fresh coffee brewing; the dogwood trees in the garden going bronze; the happy cacophony as our grandson comes storming in for a visit.  And I’ll invite my cousin’s memory to participate in the moment, because such things are beyond him now.  Seeing for two. . .or three. . .or four – how many loved ones lost in recent years!  How many visions that remain thoroughly entwined with my own!


I think that is much the case with this new piece by Miriam Levine – author of five fine poetry collections, and Arlington’s first Poet Laureate.  The ‘Melissa’ of the title is Melissa Shook, an accomplished and deeply-empathetic photographer/artist/poet who died in 2020 from a brain tumor.  Miriam’s tribute to her dear friend is perhaps the greatest sort one artist can offer to another: to make sure Melissa’s unique slant on things, her delight in the physicality of this earthly experience, remains in the world for others to discover – and enduringly present in her own days.  Miriam’s poem is quietly gravid with memory and imagery that bind her to both friendship and art-making (ah, the mallard’s orange feet! that horse’s liquid gaze!)  Perhaps this is part of the job description of every poet: to work at refreshing the language in which we speak and think, and to hone the art of perception – so that the resulting creation becomes, paradoxically, both a unique expression of the author but also a companionable presence for the reader. And through this, we all may experience a richer and more diverse vantage on our passing moment – simply because of what others have known.  Walt Whitman wrote: “I contain multitudes” – as do we all (though often we forget.)  My hope is that we each try to speak our lives, our dreams into such a fine clarity that others around us will be able to embrace, to contain what we’ve discovered, weaving it into their own – something that will last, even when we exist only in absentia.





All last night I searched for you in my dreams

but when at last I found our old meeting place

it was flooded completely, the soft sandy shore

where we had walked deep, deep under water.


The river did what it wanted, and mallards

flashed, already a lip of ice forming to seal

the grass.  Then mallards poked the weeds,

heads down, bottoms up.  You would have


been interested in the dangling orange feet,

as you were in the horse’s liquid and seeming-

sympathetic eye, your daughter’s dance,

the shadow of a hand—photos in museums now.


You would laugh at notions of an afterlife,

though in Eden you would have a Shi Tzu

in your lap; and, with your camera face down,

listen for hours to friends who told you secrets.



                                  ­­–– Miriam Levine

No comments:

Post a Comment