Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I've been re-reading Jeffrey Harrison's The Singing Underneath this week, bit by bit as I find time. I'd pulled it from the shelf while sorting poetry books to donate to our campus library (which has a woefully small selection--truly in need of a boost), remembering vaguely that I'd liked the book well enough when I bought it years ago. (The book was published in 1988 as part of the National Poetry Series: the same year as Marie Howe's The Good Thief and Cole Swensen's New Math.)

I've truly enjoyed reading through it again. There's a sense of closure--or if not closure, then a kind of finish--to each of the poems; each is well-thought and well-shaped, formal but not off-puttingly so, and deceptively deft in its shifting. It's easy to see why James Merrill selected this collection. Here's a sample poem from early in the book:


If what we wait to see partly defines us,
then this red bulb hanging in the blue
is a simple model for the heart,
swaying slightly at the end of its string
as I rock slightly, standing next to it,
eyes fixed, waiting for the buzz, the blur
of wings, the body like a tiny seal's
balancing the feeder on its nose.

Surely these moments we stand on tiptoe for
make us what we are as much as pain
and sorrow: the moment the hummingbird
flashes his red throat, the moment he spreads
his tail and swerves off like a fish, a green
streak, then sticks like a leaf to a branch--
the moment he stops in midair and sticks
his beak into that severed artery.

As he drinks, an embolism forms,
like the bubble in a spirit level,
and rises slowly up the tube, a bit
of the outside world going in, a moment
trapped: like one of those clear marbles
in which everything is upside-down, and small.
As the last drop quivers and disappears
with the bird, the heart becomes a mind.
* * *

It's foggy tonight, unusually so: a dense, swirling fog that tempted us to drive home from grocery shopping along the low-lying route (River Road) just for the little-kid thrill of feeling lost in it.
* * *

Thanks to Eduardo. (I put an extra something in the envelope.)

* * *

And extra thanks to Randy, who got my laptop back in working order while I was off grading papers this afternoon.

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