Monday, February 18, 2008

Half a Dozen More, beginning with "Easter Sunday, 1955" by Elizabeth Spires

Over the next week, six more poems, these from Word of Mouth: poems featured on NPR's All Things Considered edited by Catherine Bowman.

Easter Sunday 1955

Why should anything go wrong in our bodies?
Why should we not be all beautiful?
Why should there be decay? - why death?
- and, oh, why, damnation?
- Anthony Trollope, in a letter

What were we? What have we become?
Light fills the picture, the rising sun,
the three of us advancing, dreamlike,
up the steps of my grandparents' house on Oak Street.
Still young, my mother and father swing me
lightly up the steps, as if I weighed nothing.
From the shadows, my brother and sister watch,
wanting their turn, years away from being born.
Now my aunts and uncles and cousins
gather on the shaded porch of generation,
big enough for everyone. No one has died yet.
No vows have been broken. No words spoken
that can never be taken back, never forgotten.
I have a basket of eggs my mother and I dyed yesterday.
I ask my grandmother to choose one, just one,
and she takes me up--O hold me close!--
her cancer not yet diagnosed. I bury my face
in soft flesh, the soft folds of her Easter dress,
breathing her in, wanting to stay forever where I am.
Her death will be long and slow, she will beg
to be let go, and I will find myself, too quickly,
in the here-and-now moment of my fortieth year.
It's spring again. Easter. Now my daughter steps
into the light, her basket of eggs bright, so bright.
One, choose one, I hear her say, her face upturned
to mine, innocent of outcome. Beautiful child,
how thoughtlessly we enter the world!
How free we are, how bound, put here in love's name
- death's, too - to be happy if we can.

I choke up at "O hold me close," where the adult voice suddenly breaks into the thoughts of the child - like there's no real difference between then and now. And I love the thin-veil feeling of those first lines - her brother and sister are there, eager for their turn - to be swung you think at first, then to be born you realize. Throughout the poem there is a sense of eternal time, partly through repetitions and examples like those above, and partly because the rhythms and sound-patterns are very smooth and dreamlike. And it comforts me, the picture this poem gives of the continuity of love - I think our family, too, is that "shaded porch of generation, big enough for everyone." And that repetition of choosing - the egg we choose - the child coming after us. Free to choose and bound by our choices - it feels very true to me.
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