Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Aug 7 2017

The low winter sun
lit up the room
in the long season of night.

Its horizontal light
picked up the blonde hardwood grain
spotlit the dust
and probed the farthest corner
illuminating every flaw.

As if the space had expanded
under pressure of light,
had relieved the room of weight.
No more love-seat
preserved by silk-glove care.
No cabinets and tchotchkes,
no leather ottoman
with its stained and cat-scratched top.
No over-stuffed couch
which wallowed in softness
and they never stopped calling a chesterfield.

No more of the clutter
that comes with living well.
But what did persist was the scent;
and this, unmistakably them.
Like muscle memory
infusing the air, absorbed in the paint
ingrained in the porous walls.

And now, the vacant apartment
my parents so long called home
will soon be rented out.
New tenants
who would never suspect
they will have company,
a ghostly presence
dusting and puttering about.

Not malevolent spectres
but quiet, respectful, neat.
If not a little perplexed
by the strange new furniture
the guests who never leave.

My challenge in writing poetry is the idea. My life is too uneventful for good inspiration. Or in the words of one of my favourite podcasts – The Moth – not sufficiently “story-worthy”.

Which is OK, because what I love is the execution, the feeling of flow, that almost mystical process of receiving words as if they were dictated. And then the tweaking and fussing and revisiting until it strikes the ear and tongue just right.

So I often resort to reading others' work, and stealing their ideas. A prime resource is Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac, which delivers a poem to my in-box daily. This one arrived August 1 2017.

I felt juiced by Robyn Sarah's idea, and wanted to try riffing on it myself. The persistence of smell is the crux of her poem, and I stole that as well. So most of the credit for this piece is hers. Nevertheless, it was fun to write.

Not to mention that my parents had a condo, not an apartment. And in the spirit of not claiming credit that rightly does not belong to me, my brother and sister-in-law – not I – did the good work of emptying it out (after my father died, and my mother later moved to a senior's residence).

My process is very visual. A poem often begins with a still image, which I wander through and describe. Simple as that. So I saw the floor, the dust, the light; felt the jarring sense of spaciousness. The end seemed to write itself, and came as much a surprise to me as it may have to you.

On Closing the Apartment of my Grandparents of Blessed Memory

By Robyn Sarah

And then I stood for the last time in that room.
The key was in my hand. I held my ground,
and listened to the quiet that was like a sound,
and saw how the long sun of winter afternoon
fell slantwise on the floorboards, making bloom
the grain in the blond wood. (All that they owned
was once contained here.) At the window moaned
a splinter of wind. I would be going soon.
I would be going soon; but first I stood,
hearing the years turn in that emptied place
whose fullness echoed. Whose familiar smell,
of a tranquil life, lived simply, clung like a mood
or a long-loved melody there. A lingering grace.
Then I locked up, and rang the janitor’s bell.

On Closing the Apartment of my Grandparents of Blessed Memory” by Robyn Sarah from Questions About the Stars. © Brick Books, 1998. Reprinted with permission. 

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