Saturday, April 03, 2010

April Is National Poetry Month

The Poem as a verbal illuminated manuscript.

I met Amy Clampitt at an underattended reading in college.  She was small and slight, but had such a robust way with words that made her seem bigger.  Years pass, but I can still recall this small woman reciting this poem and letting each image unfold before us, word by word.

The Kingfisher

In a year the nightingales were said to be so loud

they drowned out slumber, and peafowl strolled screaming

beside the ruined nunnery, through the long evening

of a dazzled pub crawl, the halcyon color, portholed

by those eye-spots’ stunning tapestry, unsettled

the pastoral nightfall with amazements opening.

Months later, intermission in a pub on Fifty-fifth Street

found one of them still breathless, the other quizzical,

acting the philistine, puncturing Stravinsky—“Tell

me, what was that racket in the orchestra about?”—

hauling down the Firebird, harum-scarum, like a kite,

a burnished, breathing wreck that didn’t hurt at all.

Among the Bronx Zoo’s exiled jungle fowl, they heard

through the headphones of a separating panic, the bellbird

reiterate its single chong, a scream nobody answered.

When he mourned, “The poetry is gone,” she quailed,

seeing how his hands shook, sobered into feeling old. 

By midnight, yet another fifth would have been killed.

A Sunday morning, the November of their cataclysm

(Dylan Thomas brought in in extremis to St. Vincent’s, 

that same week, a symptomatic datum) found them

wandering a downtown churchyard. Among its headstones,

while from unruined choirs the noise of Christendom

poured over Wall Street, a benison in vestments,

a late thrush paused, in transit from some grizzled

spruce bog to the humid equatorial fireside: berry-

eyed, bark-brown above, with dark hints of trauma

in the stigmata of its underparts—or so, too bruised

just then to have invented anything so fancy,

later, re-embroidering a retrospect, she had supposed.

In gray England, years of muted recrimination (then

dead silence) later, she could not have said how many

spoiled takeoffs, how many entanglements gone sodden,

how many gaudy evenings made frantic by just one

insomniac nightingale, how many liaisons gone down
creaming in a stroll beside the ruined nunnery;

a kingfisher’s burnished plunge, the color

of felicity afire, came glancing like an arrow

through landscapes of untended memory: ardor

illuminating with its terrifying currency

now no mere glimpse, no porthole vista

but, down on down, the uninhabitable sorrow.

- Amy Clampitt