Happy Birthday Moon

by Raymond Antrobus

copyright ©Raymond Antrobus 2018

Dad reads aloud. I follow his finger across the page.
sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
He makes the Moon say something new every night
to his deaf son who slurs his speech.

Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it,
his deaf son who slurs his speech.
Dad taps the page, says, try again.

Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it.
I say Rain-an Akabok. He laughs.
Dad taps the page, says, try again,
but I like making him laugh. I say my mistake again.

I say Rain-an Akabok. He laughs,
says, Raymond you’re something else.
I like making him laugh. I say my mistake again.
Rain-an Akabok. What else will help us?

He says, Raymond you’re something else.
I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain.
Rain-an Akabok, what else will help us
hear each other, really hear each other?

I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain.
Dad makes the Moon say something new every night
and we hear each other, really hear each other.
As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger across the page.

Notes on the Poem

Over the next eight weeks, our Poem of the Week choices will come from the seven works on the newly announced 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, along with a stop along the way to appreciate the work of the latest Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award recipient (to be announced April 24, 2019). The first selection is comes from The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus. The judges' citation for The Perseverance takes gentle issue with Antrobus' own words. The citation notes that Antrobus writes, "I’m all heart, no technique", but firmly contends this collection is decidedly "Heart plus technique." "Happy Birthday Moon" is a superb illustration of just that. Moving from stanza to stanza in "Happy Birthday Moon", there is almost a sensation of being rocked in a cradle or in someone's arms as the poem paints an intimate picture of a father and son sharing some bedtime reading. But that rocking isn't entirely smooth because the repetitions are not exact. With each subtle change, you're made to pay attention rather than being lulled to rest and sleep, but the rhythms are still soothing and peaceful. (You might be amazed, by the way, to discover that there are many variations of the literary device of repetition.) The poem's repetitions build emotional momentum, from the quietly disheartened ... "He makes the Moon say something new every night to his deaf son who slurs his speech." ... to the move from frustration to determination in ... "what else will help us hear each other, really hear each other?" ... and those shifts as each sentence is repeated with patience and love, but not repeated precisely ... gently moves us towards a glowing, steady optimism. "Dad makes the Moon say something new every night and we hear each other, really hear each other." Technique? Oh yes - intriguing and freshly rewarding with each re-read of this poem. Heart? Oh, absolutely and moving so.

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