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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.

 

 

Still Life

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&A

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 childrocks, 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.)