Artless

by Brenda Shaughnessy

copyright ©2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy

is my heart. A stranger
berry there never was,
tartless.

Gone sour in the sun,
in the sunroom or moonroof,
roofless.

No poetry. Plain. No
fresh, special recipe
to bless.

All I’ve ever made
with these hands
and life, less

substance, more rind.
Mostly rim and trim,
meatless

but making much smoke
in the old smokehouse,
no less.

Fatted from the day,
overripe and even
toxic at eve. Nonetheless,

in the end, if you must
know, if I must bend,
waistless,

to that excruciation.
No marvel, no harvest
left me speechless,

yet I find myself
somehow with heart,
aloneless.

With heart,
fighting fire with fire,
fightless.

That loud hub of us,
meat stub of us, beating us
senseless.

Spectacular in its way,
its way of not seeing,
congealing dayless

but in everydayness.
In that hopeful haunting
(a lesser

way of saying
in darkness) there is
silencelessness

for the pressing question.
Heart, what art you?
War, star, part? Or less:

playing a part, staying apart
from the one who loves,
loveless.

Notes on the Poem

The judges' citation for Brenda Shaughnessy's 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted "Our Andromeda" notes that in this collection, she "continues to work the rich verbal surfaces and punning, allusive textures that marked her previous work" - and "Artless" is a shining example of that talent. To what overall effect does she apply the enchanting arsenal of effects in this poem? "Artless" is a gorgeous cascade of rhymes and near-rhymes, in the service of ruminations about one's heart and how one's existence can expose that heart to various kinds of buffeting and battering. Words like "rim and trim" or "hub ... stub" are among the few genuine rhymes. Assonance ("sunroom or moonroof") and consonance (heart, war, star, part in rapid succession) flirt with and then skim away from a more structured format, but still contribute to the poem's unique rhythm. The flurry of "less" and "ness" variations - some of them real words and others that simply should be - fills out the poem satisfyingly. Shaughnessy lets it all tumble out on the page (or screen, as you prefer) in a slender column that is charming and genuinely artless. However, as you take in its sparkling, almost ornate sequence, you realize it's anything but what the title states ... isn't it? As Shaughnessy suggests herself, she might be just "playing a part" ... or is she?

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