from Venus Velvet No. 2

by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

copyright ©2010 by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

How could I turn and say: but this is him.
How could I say: he bounded when he walked.
How could I say: when he came home at night,
A gust of snowy air around his coat,
I drew him closer, holding his lapels;
He caught me by the wrists and closed his eyes.

How could I say I tried to memorize
The truthful face, his smile a truthful blaze
Untrammeled still. I tried to learn by heart
The light-brown gaze: unguarded chrysolite
From such another world that heaven made.
Left iris, with a comet-fleck of gold.
How could I memorize his gentle ways.
The way he mingled friendliness with passion,
Plain dealing, open-handed, unafraid.
The swift, reflexive generosity.

His striking conversation, magic ease
In seeking what the other could, then more,
In understanding, warmly understood;
A quest for truth but not certainty.

And the integrity I idolized:
Another’s mystery never trifled with.
No one was belittled in those eyes.

Nothing denied, held back, or kept apart.
And never lost his gentle ways with me.
And wanted power over no one else,
But master of his heart, and of himself,
A mind that never darkened, mastermind,
Fountain of pulsing energy at play,
Unshackled, unentangled, unconfined.

Beneath the reading light, his pillowed head
A crimson-outlined silhouette at night,
His profile marble-carved, noble, sun-warmed,
Even at night, in winter, ruddy-tinged.
Red-gold of Titian’s pigment-laden brush.

The red-lit aureate curving of his ear,
Warm-blooded velvet, made for lips to find.
I kissed his brow good night and felt the touch
Of lashes brush my chin before they closed.
Untroubled love. Unmarred. And quiet sleep,

His head a silken weight against my chest,
Velvet inner elbow, dangled foot,
Voluptuous surrender, unarmed Mars,
Even in sleep, composed. Even in sleep
Possessive of my hand. Still self-possessed.

Never again our idyll-nights of peace,
Never again to have him to myself.

Notes on the Poem

Over the holiday season, we're going to revisit a couple of Poem of the Week favourites. The first comes from Gjertrud Schnackenberg's 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Heavenly Questions. When we previously considered another excerpt from Gjertrud Schnackenberg's Venus Velvet No. 2, we marvelled at how her exploration of grief ranged gracefully and astonishingly from the immense to the intimate. In this excerpt, what do we learn from Schnackenberg's focus on at times achingly close and familiar details? She modestly mentions more than once ... "How could I say I tried to memorize" when indeed, she has retained minute particulars sparking an array of images and other sensory memories of the beloved soulmate she has lost, everything from: "when he came home at night, A gust of snowy air around his coat" to "The red-lit aureate curving of his ear to "Left iris, with a comet-fleck of gold." ... so microscopic an observation, yet with the reference to a comet, still hinting at the immense sweep she shows elsewhere in the poem. Repeated references to gold and velvet reinforce just how precious each memory is to the poem's narrator. Evoking a subtle halo around her beloved ... "Beneath the reading light, his pillowed head" Schnackenberg manages to weave out of delicate but profound despair and grieving, a love poem - intimate, palpable, even quietly celebratory. She perhaps reminds us here to love with all senses attuned and taking in every experience with the loved one, so there is always a store of treasures to which one can turn.

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