Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

Yesterday I wrapped gifts and hit Play over and over on a youtube recording of my niece’s choral group singing a capella. I clapped for a six year old friend who had been instructed by his piano teacher to play Jingle Bells (for someone besides his parents) in preparation for his recital today. I read this poem and dug out my old tape –yes, tape– of the Messiah so I could listen to it, but I had nothing to listen to it on, so I youtubed it instead. Then I read this poem and was, for no reason that makes sense, transported back to 8th grade All-County choir, where I stood on the back riser (always the tall girl) of an unfamiliar bleacher in an unfamiliar school, practicing Amazing Grace over and over with no one I knew, the smell of May sun and spring wind and cotton and empty-school-on-a-weekend rising all around us.

Glory
– Suzanne Cleary

My husband and his first wife once sang Handel’s Messiah
at Carnegie Hall, with 300 others who also had read
the ad for the sing-along, and this is why I know
the word glory is not sung by the chorus,
although that is what we hear.
In fact, the choir sings glaw-dee, glaw-dee
while it seems that glory unfurls there, like glory itself.
My husband sings for me. My husband tells me they practiced
for an hour, led by a short man with glasses,
a man who made them sing glory, twice, so they could hear it
fold back upon itself, swallow itself
in so many mouths, in the grand hall.
Then he taught them glaw-dee, a distortion that creates the right effect,
like Michelangelo distorting the arms of both God and Adam
so their fingertips can touch.
My husband and his first wife and 300 others performed
at 5 o’clock, the Saturday before Christmas,
for a small audience of their own heavy coats,
for a few ushers arrived early, leaning on lobby doors.
But mostly they sang for themselves,
for it is a joy to feel song made of the body’s hollows.
I do not know if their marriage, this day, was still good
or whether it seemed again good
as they sang. I prefer to think of the choral conductor,
who sang with them. He sang all the parts, for love
not glory, or what seemed to be
glory to those who wandered in
and stood at the back of the hall, and listened.

 

– For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here.

– My Facebook page.

Poem of the Week, by Philip Dacey

Once, when my older daughter was about 12, she played a newspaper reporter in a school play. I arrived at the school for the performance to see her emerge from the dressing room wearing a skirt and heels, clutching her clipboard prop. Her hair was pulled back in a bun and her face was made up with lipstick and eyeshadow. It felt as if time had unfolded itself and this was my one possible glimpse into a 20 years’ distant future, a life in which she was all grown up. It made me want to cry, the same way this poem does.

Lifeboats
– Philip Dacey

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not
forget to sing in the lifeboats.”
— VOLTAIRE

I’m visiting my son’s 8 a.m. philosophy class,
one he’s teaching, not taking, a graduate student,
tall and serious though not unsmiling
before a sea of backwards baseball caps
and Siren-like hairdos on heads inclined
to dream of last night’s deeds or misdeeds.

His topic’s Utilitarianism, and I
have tucked myself into a desk at the back
of the room, unsuccessful at inconspicuousness,
target of stares as one by one
the acolytes of wisdom scuffed past me to their seats
already occupied by morning light

Now Austin’s talking ethical choices,
as prisoner either kill one fellow prisoner
and save the rest or refuse to kill any,
though all will then, by design of the captors, die.
Bentham says kill the one, the end is good;
Kant none, our acts are us, and nothing else.

Soon I am weeping, not, I think, for any prisoners
who might die, or for one faced
with an impossible, a killing choice
guaranteed to leave the chooser’s
peace of mind dead either way
and choice suddenly no choice at all,

but for something I can only guess at, the loss

of the child my son once was,
or the beauty of the man he has become,
heroic in this time and place, facing
the most benign of enemies, youth
not fully awakened to the world.

The drops pool on my notes, blurring the words
“maximize utility.” The students don’t notice
I am losing it, engaged as they are
in friendly argument now with my son
about members of a lifeboat,
who’s to stay, who’s to feed the fish.

The whole room begins to rock under me,
who have traveled hundreds of miles
to visit him in his world, to glimpse,
first-hand, his life, the boat he is in.
By this weeping surely I have thrown myself
overboard, and I begin to swim.

Later, he’ll write to me that the students,
and he, will miss the old visitor
in the back of the room, and I will want to
tell him then that, not to worry, once there,
the old man’s always there,
his tears the lecture’s constant subtext,

his presence something useful perhaps,
a chance for those left behind to choose, or not,
to see him, that prison doors open wide
into other prisons and all lifeboats leak,
though waking up, eyes pried apart by the light
of language, is one act that sends everyone

to the head of the class.

 

For more information about Philip Dacey, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Mark J. Mitchell

The image of Sisyphus has been in the back of my mind forever, head and shoulders down, legs and back straining, grimly pushing that damn boulder up and up and up an endless hill. I make jokes about him, reference him to friends when one is trudging through an awful stretch, turn to the thought of him for a weird kind of solace when things feel unbearable. But I never thought of him this way before: A human being, drawn to something beautiful, something unexplainable, something that surely must be worth all the effort it’s going to take.

Mechanics of a Myth
– Mark. J. Mitchell

Sisyphus, aching under moonlight,
Looks down the mountain.
Something confuses him.
Fresh reflections are bouncing
Off a boulder or something
Way down in that valley.
It’s blue and beautiful.
He thinks, weary as he is,
“I ought to go get that.”


For more information on Mark J. Mitchell, please click here.

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