Friday poem IV

4 12 2009

What lyric this week?

A poem for war?

Or perhaps a poem for my aching head, dunned twice with migraine.

Or for the half-awakening in which Chelsea dipped into that triangle between arm and body and air and purred me back to sleep, even as I cried, again, at her absence.

Sifting through the cut-outs, I could find nothing. And then I came across this poem by Kelly Cherry, who taught a poetry seminar I took at UW-Madison.

Cherry was a bit ornery, a bit odd, and a hell of a teacher. She had definite ideas about poetry—no misspellings and odd capitalizations, and you goddamned better well know the difference between lie and lay—but she didn’t seek to stamp herself into all of our styles.

Her approach was, instead, Make your work, better.

I have kept that with me for over twenty years, and try, and more often fail, to live up to that in my own teaching.

This poem was originally published in the Atlantic in two columns. I’ve inserted a stanza break between the two columns, but it’s possible that this was meant to be  a one stanza poem.

Regardless, it’s lovely: a grace note to us all.


You know of course that you haven’t earned it.
For if you had, it would not be what it is:
Beauty of the candle after you’ve burned it,
The dark bird rising like smoke, always from ashes,
Remembrance of heat and light, describing itself
Invisibly upon the air of the mind,
That takes the life lived in a fury of self-
Love and remakes it into something that shined

So brightly that it might have been a star;
Instead of a candle you were burning at both ends.

And now the night grows black, wherever you are,
Except for the golden shimmer than descends
To the earth through miles of lonely outer space
And lights up your misspent live, with saving grace.