Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines

by Brenda Hillman

copyright ©2013 by Brenda Hillman

— so we said to the somewhat: Be born —
      & the shadow kept arriving in segments,
    cold currents pushed minerals
  up from the sea floor, up through
coral & labels of Diet Coke blame shame
        bottles down there —
    it is so much work to appear!

unreadable zeroes drop lamps
      as mustard fields [Brassica rapa]
gold without hinges, a vital
      echo of caring … On the census,
just write: it exists! Blue Wednesday
      bells strike the air like forks
    on a thrift store plate,
& the shadow moves off to the side …

In the woods, loved ones tramp through
      the high grass; they wait in a circle
          for the fire to begin;
they throw paper dreams & sins upon
              the pyre & kiss, stocking the first
      hesitant flame after touching a match
to the bad news — branches are thrust back
across myths before the flame catches –;
ravens lurch through double-knuckled
        pines & oaks & the otherwise;
a snake slithers over serpentine
then down to the first
      dark where every cry has size —

FOR EK & MS

Notes on the Poem

Brenda Hillman's "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire" was awarded the International Griffin Poetry Prize one year ago. As we wait to learn who has won the prize this year, we'll reprise this Poem of the Week selection from Hillman's collection. The equinox is the twice annual occasion when the sun crosses the celestial equator, and day and night are of equal length. How does the sense of balancing light and dark inform Brenda Hillman's poem "Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines" ... or, in fact, does it? Certainly, there is a physical sense of movement in the poem that echoes the movement of the sun on its equinoctial journeys. Line by line, the wavering, shifting indents simulate movement that creates an almost prickly, unsettled effect as you scan the poem. Verse by verse, shadow arrives, encroaches and transitions to a complete darkness that takes on immensity with the poem's final, haunting line. If the equinox is a balance of light and dark, then the growing and soon consuming darkness illustrates that balance has not been achieved. There are flashes of light ... lamps, gold, fire ... but they are "hesitant" and do not seem to last. This sense of striving for but perhaps not achieving balance underpins themes Hillman hints at throughout this poem, with ominous references to everything from Diet Coke labels to bad news to a slithering snake.

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