Pamela Mordecai

from Reading at 4:00 AM 

I. Reading the Poets

I read Walcott’s Omeros, chapter six. Helen
chats with her friends down near to the sea wall.
She don’t like when the tourist foreigners
put their hands on her ass and so she tell
the cashier he could keep the fucking job.
Is just a stupid waitress work, is all!
Only she now must find something to do
like how she pregnant and don’t know for who.
For me her tale is poetry more than
“love songs fading over a firefly sea.”
(chapter eleven). If ocean, hill and sky
can’t hold this odyssey, what chance a page?
I set aside the book to search my face
for prudent lines to whisper to Helen.

I read a poem, “Mint,” about a tuft
of fine-leaved crimp-edged aromatic stalks
in Seamus Heaney’s yard—we had one too
on the way down the slope to the back gate.
Nobody planted it; it was just there
from the beginning, so for all I know
it’s maybe standing still, its slender waist
not a whit bigger, growing its spicy grow.
It’s a fine poem. I see what Heaney says
and magic don’t come much in verse these days
except in songs from worlds where minstrels tune
their notes for bread because, don’t mind how much
rain fall, the dirt, like Miss Lou says, is tough,
and nothing grows to feed our souls enough.

I read Larkin’s “This Be the Verse.” Tough poem.
It says your parents fuck you up. They do.
It says that they don’t mean to. I’m less sure
that absence of malevolence is true
in every case. It says that they were fucked
up in their turn by parents who wore old-
style hats and coats, outfits I’m sure that made
them neither less nor more effective passers-on
of grief! It says, “Man hands on misery
to man . . . ” Present enough, but no, this passing on
“it deepens like a coastal shelf.” (Perhaps
we’d best look up our topographic terms?)
To sound the image and the ocean floor
requires resonance. The same thing holds for agony.

pam photo

From Subversive Sonnets (TSAR Publications, 2012.)