Anniversaries, End of August

by Russell Thornton

copyright ©Russell Thornton 2014

Anniversaries circle round again. My grandparents
marrying in the sun. The guests in their best attire.
The filled vaulted room. Then the clinking glasses.
Then the private rites of those who waited long.
It is there in the light. Light that is a window.
And is a mirroring seas for my grandmother
out in the sailing ship of her wedding dress. Her ashes.

Someone I loved dying alone. The month the wide frame
of her final leaving. It was also her birth month. Light
opens its window, and is window upon window.
Her living hair darkens beyond its living black.
That black is another light, no visible sun
burning in its origins but a dark transparency,
and it arrives like another her, again and again.

I too am a window. In August, two people
among the dead look out of it. They do not know
the window is me. And I am what a window can wish.
To open endlessly because it is light,
and because it is a mirror, let the silver erase itself
and arrive and wait flawless on the glass,
and darken, and erase itself, like life, like death.

Notes on the Poem

Russell Thornton's "Anniversaries, End of August" leaves us dizzy after one reading, but eager to read the poem again. How does he so entice readers in this selection from his 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection The Hundred Lives? Anniversaries - yearly observances of occasions, such as weddings - and birthdays, arguably one's most precious anniversary of all, are often referred to as "a trip around the sun", the time it takes for planet Earth to circle the sun. Thornton reinforces this concept with immediate references to those very things - circling and the sun - and then takes us through a verging on vertiginous series of images and effects that reflect (pun rather intentional!) on our awareness of the passage of time. Light, windows and mirrors whirl, collide and merge. How we and those we love are bathed in changing light and captured as ever-repeating and either ever-intensifying or fading series of images leaves us close to dazed. Is light helping us to understand something - shedding light, in effect - or is it blinding us to something? Are windows opening us to something? "I too am a window. In August, two people among the dead look out of it." ... suggests awareness of our lineage and mortality. But then ... "Light opens its window, and is window upon window." ... is like the effect of mirrors mirroring other mirrors and the images held in the mirrors, repeating infinitely. Does that depiction of the limitless of time offer comfort or create helpless despair? Before readers tip into woozy sensory overload, Thornton establishes exquisite balance in the poem's closing lines: "because it is a mirror, let the silver erase itself and arrive and wait flawless on the glass, and darken, and erase itself, like life, like death." As we observed David McFadden doing in last week's Poem of the Week, Thornton lets the reader process whether or not the poem has ended on an encouraging or discouraging note.

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