AFTER HARD RAIN, THE SUN
My notary-and-translator has fallen asleep,
but I go right on speaking this broken language.
This trial’s a sham—voices I heard were the truth.
I’m slow along the earth like notes from an oboe.
I follow behind leaf swirls to see where they lead.
I feel the pianist’s fingers pushing against my bones.
I’ve buried myself inside magnolia scent
when the sun comes out just after hard rain,
drenched to the root of my deepest thoughts.
What one thing has to do with another is like
following pollen on the legs of a bee. So many
wide fields, starts and stops amid clover stems.
In the air all around us are the notes of a song
made of the prayers that we hum to ourselves.
There’s no way to breathe without tasting a prayer.
Structurally, the poem plays around with a three-line stanza frame where each stanza (hopefully) stands on its own. (In fact, twenty six of the fifty poems in Notes for a Praise Book employ this shape.) I rely more on the sound and pacing to determine the lines. Sometimes, as in stanza two, I end-stop each line. Other times, as in stanza three, a single statement takes three lines to develop. I find that varying the stanzas in terms of statements, sentence structures, questions (not present in this particular poem) can play against the form of an imposed three-line stanza.
In the first stanza, I use the phrase “broken language,” perhaps recognizing that any language we use is, on one level, “broken,” since it falls short of changing much. In fact, what am I to think if the language Joan of Arc used, a language full of claims about God, can’t change her accusers’ minds, can’t humble them, can’t break down their assumptions? What does this fact hold for any of us? Nonetheless, I go on speaking in whatever way it is that I speak. Maybe the “trial” any of us goes through is a sham. If we’ve heard what we consider to be truth, then whatever would try to condemn us probably means little anyway.
In the second stanza, the first line plays with long “o” sounds: “slow,” “notes,” and “oboe.” Sometimes simply the sound of one vowel will bring forth echoing sounds, and I am usually conscious of this writing technique in almost all of my poems. In fact, sometimes I’ll see a word while I’m reading, a simple word, and I’ll write it down to see what other words come to mind and then see if I can place these words somewhere within the poem. The words become like touch points or stepping stones through the text. Occasionally, though, all the words will end up in the same line, as they do here. I remember a poem I wrote years ago with the following line: “I’m slow to be the being I’m becoming.” The repetition and playfulness of “be” and “being” and “becoming” all within the same line remind me of this line in “After Hard Rain, the Sun.” I know it’s a subtle touch, probably noticeable only to me as the writer, but I like ending this stanza on the same long “o” sound: “bones.” I like design in what I write, and the echo not only of “o” but also of “b” (oboe, bones) is my way of stitching back through sounds found earlier in the stanza.
I spent a good deal of my childhood in a yard of thirteen oak trees and three magnolias. Such trees, particularly magnolias, come into my work quite often. As a young child, I hung out in magnolia trees and “buried” myself inside the scent of their flowers—a sort of baptism. Likewise, I think I’ve tried to bury myself inside another language, one aware of divinity all-surrounding me, one that tries to stand firm against the “sham” of “judges” who’ve already made up their minds.
As the fourth stanza says, it’s difficult to see what one thing has to do with something else, but writing poetry has always felt like wandering through “[s]o many wide fields,” trusting toward a revelation. Rilke says that we are “bees of the invisible.” If that’s true, then like bees, we stop and start a lot, moving from one detail to another, from stanza to stanza and poem to poem, all the while seeding, humming, pushing against, adding to the world’s song, tasting. I guess I’ve come to believe that breathing is humming and humming is hymning and hymning is praying, “drenched to the root of my deepest thoughts.”