For Mother's Day, the poem that leads the Sparrow
This is the poem that — on editor (and friend) Paul Vermeersch's suggestion — opens my new book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent. As I've said, I wanted this book to be very different from any other poetry book I've published.
My parents, Syd and Shirley, bought a place in Pompano Beach, Florida, in, I think, the mid-1980s. They spent four or five months a year there. I visited them in Pompano a few times before my mother's death in 1995, and a couple more times before my father sold the place not long before his own death in 2001. I usually stayed for a few weeks. It was a surreal experience being in that land of snowbird communities, and it was sometimes trying for both my parents and I to spend so much time in close quarters, but those times were also really beautiful. I miss them.
It was on the balcony mentioned in the poem below that I wrote my much earlier poem "Little Black Train," which was a pivotal piece for me. I also wrote a word-replacement version of Tom Clark's "Sonnet" ("The orgasm completely/Takes the woman out of/Herself…") and another of Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole" (which I just heard quoted in the final episode of the first season of Blunt Talk). I did versions of a whole bunch of American poets' poems, and several of them wound up in a long piece of mine called "Yankee Doodle," which maybe appeared in my first full-length collection, The Inspiration Cha-Cha. The swimming pool by their condo was the one that inspired my short story "The Sun Tan," from Buying Cigarettes for the Dog.
Anyway, here's the first poem in my new book. I struggled with this one for many years, and then rewrote it about half a dozen times more after Sparrow was accepted for publication.
POMPANOAnd my mother is on the balconyand my father is making cheese sandwichesand my mother is writing a letterthat my father will discovertwo months later in their bedroomin Toronto, the morningwe’re to bury hershe writes thatshe is on the balconyand he is making cheese sandwichesand she says she feels treasuredand if ever there are grandkidstell them she’d’ve loved themand in five years my brotherdies in my sobbing father’s armsand my father one year afterand I cannot find the lettermy mother wrote in Pompanobut I remember the word treasuredit’s how she felt, she saidand the palm trees sway in the hot breezeand butterflies called daggerwings drift pastand sand skinks swim through millions of grains of sandand I — I am a pompanoI am this forked-tailed fishI am this fish and I searchfor that letter in my mother’s handbeyond the Atlantic coast
Over and out.