It has been over a month since I have posted, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on what became this post. As always, several circumstances converged for the creation of today’s poem, “And Even Now, Lightning Flashes in Mid-December.” One contributing factor was a discussion on Christmas Day about the Vermont Poet Laureates: Robert Frost, Galway Kinnell, Louise Gluck, Ellen Bryant Voight, Grace Paley, Ruth Stone, and Sydney Lea. The second factor was the discovery of the cento, a poem that is created through the use of other poets’ lines. The third piece was the horrible incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This shook me to my core.
How do you process something like this? I did not have words for it. So I took the words of others, specifically the seven Vermont Poet Laureates. I decided to read a book (or two short ones) by each poet, noting which lines resonated in some vague way to what I wanted to express. I then went back through the books, typed up each line that I had chosen, and organized them by author, assigning a different color to each one. This resulted in twelve pages of single lines. From there, I began to group lines together and thus began the poem. After four weeks, I have just finished the first draft that I post here today. The title is a line from Ruth Stone’s poem, “And So Forth,” found in her book In the Dark.
Due to the poem being so long (ten sections and eight pages in it’s totality), below I only have the beginning lines of sections 1, 2, 4, 9, and 10. Sections 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are included in their entirety. To read the complete poem, you can click here. To see which lines belong to which poet, click here. And to see additional lines I had chosen but that did not make it into this version, click here. They could make up another poem (or several).
And Even Now, Lightning Flashes In Mid-December
A Cento Poem in Ten Parts
What can I tell you that you don’t know
of this slipping shadow – this eclipse
won’t let go I am alone,
remote body, trembling with the rush
into the raven-black cave of self…
Perhaps he’s only become quite shy.
It was the smell of that time, that neighborhood.
I’d never paid a lot of mind: the merest nod, a vague hello
in that vanished abode now far apart,
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls,
a certain disheveled neighbor…
Your personality like moth wings, shredding itself
that at once kept you burning low and hid you,
and the long shaft of darkness shaped as you
would be afraid if we should comprehend
but no one ever heard you make the claim.
There’s a lot yet that isn’t understood –
but the last choice is still the same.
But the last choice is still the same.
This morning a man –
in a secret wood, as the countryside lay stunned –
killed my gift, exposed
us with the sting of memory
the oath sworn between earth and water, flesh and spirit, broken –
suddenly there suddenly gone.
But weren’t the early gifts a promise
I held in my hands? …
One doesn’t notice wings when they’re at rest.
Snow birds the sun caught –
lifting through the sky, their voices
shuddering across the black sky and vanishing,
never again would birds’ song be the same.
A flock of birds leaving the side of the mountain:
again, again, again, frail wings beat as they hover.
Does it matter where the birds go? Does it even matter?
They leave here, that’s the point.
Not a bird in sight, not a sound.
The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
And she who is born
of so much warmth and light,
her tenderness gathers them up
by countless silken ties of love and thought
and run[s] in little skips.
A child’s kisses, rise –
and kissed her from head to toe The other one my son
were days so very few
and did I say enough to you?
Even this haunted room,
watery shapes in the shadows of the room,
almost the whisper of your voice.
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood.
Bring out the stars, bring out the flowers.
In your dreams the hours begin to sing,
impatient for sunrise,
and if our getting up to start the day
had stood still for us in the middle of heaven
that blows apart the mightiest of stars,
you can imagine my breath stopped then.
Who cares but for the future of the bud
and the blossoms glittering in the sky?
As above: the last scattered stars
expend their bloom in vain.
The night isn’t dark, the world is dark,
and there is always more than should be said
as if clinging could save us. I think
this absence has a smell,
and what I pity in you is something human
like the shoes left behind.
Casket of the snow:
I’ve seen it breaking open.
I walk out from myself –
I think, do you hear me now?
I cannot touch your life, much less can save,
so the past is not a scar but a wound:
and Time which is nature as well will be a poor healer no matter.
I had only wanted to love.
Politicians rattling swords
or worse: deliberate, someone’s “agenda”
is just a male version of dressing up.
Of our ancestors, it says nothing.
“Now all together, fellows
let’s give them a chorus they won’t forget!”
as the women and children who
will surely be in the way
clung to the male’s plumage, which turned
history, with its moral,
that goodwill and hope may count for nothing
for the future.
What do they care?
Once we gave the matter little thought
with faint headshakings, no more wise
till it ended here:
it has come to this.
There’s nothing but injustice to be had.
The quiet authority of culture,
the witness tree…
What dream would be mine? That life go on,
the loving’s made to hold each other like
all bodies, one body, one light.
No more than dream, of course, I know.
There’s not a whole lot to say about a cento. First appearing somewhere between the 3rd or 4th centuries, a “cento” is a poem that is made of lines from other poems. The name is derived from Latin meaning “patchwork” and it is considered a type of collage poem. The poetry of both Homer and Virgil contain centos. A true cento, such as “And Even Now, Lightning Flashes in Mid-December” has no original lines. In using others’ lines, I did, however, take liberty with punctuation and capitalization to make the poem read a bit smoother. Still, it is a collage poem and meant to feel as such, echoing the complexities of all of the issues surrounding our societal woes with guns, not just at Sandy Hook, but across the nation where people are murdered or hurt every day by them.
Poems from the following books were used to compose the lines of the cento, “And Even Now, Lightning Flashes in Mid-December”:
Robert Frost: A Boy’s Will and A Witness Tree
Galway Kinnell: The Book of Nightmares
Ellen Bryant Voight: Kyrie and Messenger, New Poems
Louise Gluck: Meadowlands
Grace Paley: Fidelity
Ruth Stone: In the Dark
Sydney Lea: Young of the Year
My next cento challenge is to take only 14 – or 7 – lines from all of those pages I chose to write a poem on the same topic.