Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Poem for the Day

About 11 years ago, I was loaned a copy of James Schuyler's Collected Poems, with the advice that I should really read him, that I would learn something I needed. At that time I tried to read him, closely, but honestly my system just seemed to reject him. It did nothing for me. After about a month I gave the book back, and rather shame-facedly said "I don't get it." A couple of years after that, the Collected Poems was a required text for a class I was in. I bristled at the cost of the book, because I just couldn't see buying it (especially when living on a TA's stipend.) That time however, I did get it. The seeming simplicity of the poems that I discounted before-- the short lines, the repetitions, the odd line breaks--it made sense to me, it moved me, it "blew the top off of my head." I've definitely taken Schuyler to heart as a master. I know this poem gets played to death, and even though it's not my absolute favorite of his (I'm saving it for later) it is one that I find myself re-reading. Actually, I did reread it today, something about the quality of the sky at one point made me think of it.

Korean Mums
beside me in this garden
are huge and daisy-like
(why not? are not
oxeye daisies a chrysanthemum?),
shrubby and thick-stalked,
the leaves pointing up
the stems from which
the flowers burst in
sunbursts. I love
this garden in all its moods,
even under its winter coat
of salt hay, or now,
in October, more than
half gone over: here
a rose, there a clump
of aconite. This morning
one of the dogs killed
a barn owl. Bob saw
it happen, tried to
intervene. The airedale
snapped its neck and left
it lying. Now the bird
lies buried by an apple
tree. Last evening
from the table we saw
the owl, huge in the dusk,
circling the field
on owl-silent wings.
The first one ever seen
here: now it's gone,
a dream you just remember.

The dogs are barking. In
the studio music plays
and Bob and Darragh paint.
I sit scribbling in a little
notebook at a garden table,
too hot in a heavy shirt
in the mid-October sun
into which the Korean mums
all face. There is a
dull book with me,
an apple core, cigarettes,
an ashtray. Behind me
the rue I gave Bob
flourishes. Light on leaves,
so much to see, and
all I really see is that
owl, its bulk troubling
the twilight. I'll
soon forget it: what
is there I have not forgot?
Or one day will forget:
this garden, the breeze
in stillness, even
the words, Korean mums.


Ron Mohring said...

So nice to see an appreciation of Schuyler--I don't know anyone else who reads him any more.

RJGibson said...

It surprises me that he isn't read more, because when he's good he's very very good. But I think the quietness of his poems can turn people off. I wish sometimes that there was just a little more tension in some of the poems, but that's a minor quibble.