Poetry from Rachel Hadas
followed by Q&A
The Beauty of Change
What was it about this particular September’s
change of light, anxious wings?
The unexpected road unwinds itself in passing
back and away from me.
Children look so pretty in the evening sun.
Now there are only games.
I tried, by thinking, to discover what belonged to me.
I will always proclaim you mine.
You’ll be my magnum opus,
written in a language I don’t yet speak.
All the words that I know rest before me, formless,
stories with no time, no distinct beginning or end.
We gorge ourselves all day on winter light.
No one tells us that we have to watch.
No one tells us what to make of it.
How quickly the memory of wanting recedes.
We were aware of the storm breaking on the horizon:
rain enough to quench a dragon’s thirst.
On most days the garden was an extension of heaven,
two worlds separated by a schism called thought.
The river hasn’t stopped by which you were born,
the river that still reminds us of the beauty of change.
This poem is a cento, assembled by Rachel Hadas from lines from work by her gifted MFA poetry students at Rutgers Newark, Fall 2009: Christopher Caruso, Moriah Cohen, Sara Grossman, Nora Luongo, Paula Neves, Susan Riedel, and Rimas Uzgiris.
The Quick and the Dead
Lean back. Breathe. The air goes in and out.
Soft June grasses heal the recent drought
with a green layer. In. Through fragrant air
the quiet dead accompany the rest-
less living as we do each daily task,
feel sun, sweat, sleep, eat, scurry here and there,
endlessly talk. Out. And we never ask
when we will join our filmy dead, or where.
One segment at a time, a winding path
lures us forward over earth’s broad breast.
Joined, the pieces fit into a maze
coterminous, exactly, with our days.
The house is closed. The family have left.
Maybe they’ll be back for Labor Day.
There’s hardly any wind,
yet the chimes on the porch discreetly tinkle.
Two flags, nearly translucent
as the light pours through them,
quietly strain on their pole. A tiny plane
connects the rising moon and setting sun.
I sit down on a bench next to the flagpole.
As if someone had just now gotten up,
the swing suspended from the one tall pine
on the patch of lawn that slopes down to the brook
ever so slightly sways. There is nobody.
The bench is granite, neither cool nor warm.
Storing the Season
The problem is the prodigality:
blackberries, apples in profusion, each
by its respective nature hard to reach.
Tangle of brambles, berries glossy black:
even to graze them with a fingertip,
you have to stretch.
Then rosy apples clustered on a branch
too high to touch—
the problem is too much.
Go for what you can eat.
Berry a bucketful, cook into jam;
slice apples, boil, and strain into warm sauce.
Inhale the rising steam,
fragrant distillation of this late
summer, which offers other treasures too,
but less digestible. For what to do
with misty mornings burning off to blue?
With spangled webs that delicately lace
two blades of grass? You can’t consume a place.
How to assimilate that lichened rock
on which I like to sit
and dream, and gaze at lines of drying hay
striping the field? Can I take these away,
pack them and then unpack, arrange them, spread
them out like Christmas presents on a bed?
If gifts, for whom? For everyone. And why?
The rending gold of August ending—I
can only fold it into poetry.
Rachel Hadas’s new memoir, Strange Relation, is out in January/February from Paul Dry Books. Her many other books include poetry, essays, and translations. She is Board of Governors Professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University.
Q: Can you discuss the cento form and how you use it in your classes?
A: I have never assigned a cento, but I enjoy reading them. This was the first one I wrote, and I think I will indeed assign them in the future. The form wonderfully emphasizes the valence of the discrete line, and to use the form might encourage students to read more carefully and purposefully. Assigned a cento of student work obviously poses its own challenges!
Q: Landscape is a powerful presence in these poems—if an artist were to paint these places, who would that artist (or artists) be?
A: “Storing the Season” and “Still Life” were both written in (and more or less about) northern Vermont, where I spend summers. (“The Quick and the Dead” is probably set in the “landscape” of a New York City park, so far as I remember.)
Q: What did you collect as a child—rocks, insects, stamps?—and why?
A: I collected stamps, in part because I enjoyed sending and receiving mail—i.e. ordering stamps—even as quite a young child. (My interest in the actual stamps was quite ephemeral.)