If you’re going to have a national poetry month, at some point you have to celebrate the poets. I will confess: I have no idea how they do what they do. It’s magical and mystical and I leave poetry to the fortunate people who have that gift.
Suzanne Paola is one of my very best friends, but I would read her poetry even if I didn’t know her, and I am in awe of her creative non-fiction (you’ll note that Body Toxic came out under her penname. It’s one of those books that will stay with you forever).
Suz has also got an almost frightening memory when it comes to the written word; quote her some Shakespeare and out will pop line and verse. And she loves the Terminator movies. Really, what more could you ask for in a friend?
So I asked her if she could come up with a favorite poem. She came up with more than one, and I’m giving you this one — but first you get one of hers.
One more thing: Suz is on the board of the Slum Doctor Programme, a non-profit with an important mission: to lift the burden of despair for people impacted by AIDS in Africa by providing hope, medicine, food, education and dignity.
This first poem is Suzanne’s:
As if the heart darkened out of its fever,
the bunched heads bow and keep burning–
All spring I watch their pilgrimage of the flesh,
nubs hard as the breasts of girls, first green, then red, then black.
Like monks, they filter out every shade of desire.
As a child I thought each cloud might lift me–
How I loved possibility then!
On my back
at night, in summer, watching the sky open up,
the dog star drag its prodigious light through the heat
at the hunter’s heels . . .
was anything can happen anything anything
and past sense I sang it: each night, my voice
beat darkness from the bed; each morning, the same day,
the same world, came around again, and in it
I got older and older–
Now I look down and love the small,
the rooted, all things learning what they cannot be–
Each branch that ladders, thorn by thorn, to the sun,
the ache of time pressed to one point
black and true as the eye of a dog.
And one of her favorites, by Sylvia Plath. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Plath’s, but I like this one. Maybe because it’s one of her early ones.
From Water-Tower Hill to the brick prison
The shingle booms, bickering under
The sea’s collapse.
Snowcakes break and welter. This year
The gritted wave leaps
The seawall and drops onto a bier
Of quahog chips,
Leaving a salty mash of ice to whiten
In my grandmother’s sand yard. She is dead,
Whose laundry snapped and froze here, who
Kept house against
What the sluttish, rutted sea could do.
Squall waves once danced
Ship timbers in through the cellar window;
A thresh-tailed, lanced
Shark littered in the geranium bed —
Such collusion of mulish elements
She wore her broom straws to the nub.
Twenty years out
Of her hand, the house still hugs in each drab
The purple egg-stones: from Great Head’s knob
To the filled-in Gut
The sea in its cold gizzard ground those rounds.
Nobody wintering now behind
The planked-up windows where she set
Her wheat loaves
And apple cakes to cool. What is it
So, battered, obstinate spit
Of gravel? The waves’
Spewed relics clicker masses in the wind,
Grey waves the stub-necked eiders ride.
A labor of love, and that labor lost.
Steadily the sea
Eats at Point Shirley. She died blessed,
And I come by
Bones, only bones, pawed and tossed,
A dog-faced sea.
The sun sinks under Boston, bloody red.
I would get from these dry-papped stones
The milk your love instilled in them.
The black ducks dive.
And though your graciousness might stream,
And I contrive,
Grandmother, stones are nothing of home
To that spumiest dove.
Against both bar and tower the black sea runs.