Poem of Light


Every once in a while an amazing book comes along… All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr fits the bill. If a book can have beautiful cinematography with only words, then this one does. The words, the imagery, the humanity of our being have left me raw with emotion. As my grandfather was a WWII vet, the story and feelings are especially poignant for me. As part of processing all the emotion this book has awakened in me, I’ve pieced together a poem from of some of my favorite phrasings from the book:

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever
all of light is invisible
how does the brain which lives without a spark of light
build for us a world full of light?

all have seen things they wish to forget
always there is a sense of a tide behind them, rising, gathering mass,
carrying with it a slow and vindictive rage
every day, on his right and left, another soul escapes towards the sky
there is something to be angry at, he is sure, but he cannot say what it is
everything rustles
he feels only the raw, impassive surge of the moonlight as it strikes the tent above him and scatters

body seems to have gone weightless under his blanket,
beyond the flapping tent doors
trees dance and the clouds keep their huge billowing march.
the moonlight shines and billows: the broken clouds scud above the trees
leaves fly everywhere
but the moonlight stays unmoved by the wind, passing through clouds, through air, in what seems like impossibly slow, imperturbable rays
they hang across the buckling grass
why doesn’t the wind move the light?

the cords of his soul not yet severed
Claire de Lune, the light of the moon

he is everyone who has left her finally coming back

what I want to write about today is the sea.
it seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel

What you could be
it was not easy to be good then
we all grew up before we were grown up
in many ways, her memories of her brother have become things to lock away
some griefs can never be put right
feel all over again the seering pain of his absence
memories cartwheel out of her head and tumble across the floor

this woman has dropped a molten kernel of memory into her hands

how to see her is to believe once more that goodness, more than anything else, is what lasts.
you must never stop believing
sound of bees
somewhere, someone is figuring out how to push back the hood of grief, but she cannot, not yet
to feel the sentences hoist her up and carry her somewhere else
stillness, that is what he radiates more than anything else

he sees what other people don’t
what the war did to dreamers
you did this to me
to not have the war be the center from which the rest of your life spiraled

memories strobe past
she sees herself walking out of the smoking city
smoke is a suspension of particles, billions of drifting carbon molecules
bits of living rooms, cafes, trees, people
only the strongest people can turn away from feelings like that.
his poem


sky where roof used to be

Sky where roof used to be
where everything you’ve lost is found
air full of past
burn destructed and then reborn

belonging in harm’s way
courting gratitude
for memories held that don’t
wisp away like smoke
embers fall from grace

ledges of life
roughly reassembled
out of synchronicity
papery images of past

going home
I drive by
burned roof open to moving sky

This poem was inspired by actual events (I guess all poems are, in one way or another).

One morning, driving to school, we noticed that a house on a street near the school had partially burned. My youngest daughter remained fascinated by the sight of it for weeks, as did I. We wondered what the story was: who lived there, were they OK, and what caused the fire?

Then the story appeared in our local paper. A woman had lived in the house with her cat, she had Alzheimer’s. Her son lived next door. Early one morning she was sitting out on her front porch when a neighbor (not her son) noticed the fire and helped get her off the porch and save her cat. She may have left the burner on, heating water for tea, she can’t remember. No one was hurt in the fire and everyone is grateful. It was her dream house, it will be rebuilt.

A few days later, driving by the remains of the house I was struck by the phrase, “sky where roof used to be” as through the jagged hole in the damaged roof you could see the juxtaposed blue sky and the clouds moving through it. I was inspired to construct a poem based on that phrase and the story of the woman, and wanted to have a photo of the damaged roof with the sky. I kept meaning to stop and take the photo. One evening, driving home from back to school night, I remembered again that I needed to take that photo. I kept driving as I felt the pull to get home as I’d been gone for several hours. Then something inside compelled me to turn back and actually get the photo taken.

The next morning I drove by the house again and the roof remains had been demolished to make way for the rebuild.

I finished this poem a few days later.

Appropriate language

The longer I stay away, the more daunting it seems to come back…  This is my blogging experience.  I have been writing…some.  Following is a work I produced at a summer writing program (SWP) way back in June. It was such a blessing to have been able to take a week out of a busy summer home with my kids and devote it to writing.   The poem includes borrowed words and phrases from poems of Alice Notley and Doug Oliver, old American folk music, and some Bob Dylan songs, which means it is an appropriated language poem of sorts, which is double layered in here since Alice Notley’s “In the Pines” poem (which is one of the sources) also contains appropriated language.

And you go walking
flurries on the other side
featureless trees alive with night
clear to the bottom
uneasy in their resting place
will to go, jettisoned, distracted

The usual crowd was there
wrong about everything
think how they sound
lonesome eerie veiled sound
of the periphery
holes filled with background
glory well of sorrows
flashes false
a price is no price
subtled in habit
arrow on the dark night of grief
taking down the stars above
plantations burning

a bird, end down, slept in the pines
a movement takes under
seems to be all there is
if the cold wind sun never shines
where will you go?
tears are calling
to cross over everything unresolved
crickets, not a word of good-bye
going home travel loves motion
white linen
my magic, god like mysterious fortune
a face you almost remember
there’s plenty of rest here
heavily guarded, my own soul.