08 May 2016

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.


And my mother is on the balcony
and my father is making cheese sandwiches
and my mother is writing a letter
that my father will discover
two months later in their bedroom
in Toronto, the morning
we’re to bury her

she writes that
she is on the balcony
and he is making cheese sandwiches
and she says she feels treasured
and if ever there are grandkids
tell them she’d’ve loved them

and in five years my brother
dies in my sobbing father’s arms
and my father one year after
and I cannot find the letter
my mother wrote in Pompano
but I remember the word treasured
it’s how she felt, she said

and the palm trees sway in the hot breeze
and butterflies called daggerwings drift past
and sand skinks swim through millions of grains of sand
and I — I am a pompano
I am this forked-tailed fish
I am this fish and I search
for that letter in my mother’s hand
beyond the Atlantic coast

Over and out.


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