At the Solstice, a Yellow Fragment

Brenda Hillman

copyright ©2013 by Brenda Hillman

Our lord of literature
  visits my love,
they have gone below,
they have lost their way
among the tablets
of the dead –;

    preeeee — dark energy — woodrat
  in the pine, furred thing
      & the fine,
a suffering among syllables, stops
  winter drops from cold,  cold,
miracle night  (a fox
      deep in its hole under yellow
    thumbs of the chanterelles,
  (no: gold. Gold thumbs, Goldman Sachs
    pays no tax … (baby goats
in the pen, nor blaming God,
    not blaming them —

(alias: buried egg of the shallow-helmet turtle
      [Actinemys marmorata]
alias: thanks for calling the White House
      comment line))))

For your life had stamina
from a childhood among priests
& far in the night,
beyond the human realm, a cry
released from the density of nature —

Notes on the Poem

A single line - in fact, just a glancing fragment of a line - in Brenda Hillman's poem "At the Solstice, a Yellow Fragment" immediately reminds us of a striking element in the poems of another Griffin Poetry Prize winner, Sylvia Legris. The measured opening stanza of Hillman's poem (from her collection "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire") is suddenly brought up short with an abrupt utterance:     preeeee -- dark energy -- woodrat   in the pine, furred thing       & the fine, a suffering among syllables That interjection is reminiscent of the sonic embellishments of Legris' poems, such as "Strange Birds; Twitching Birds" and "4 MARKED BY CLAWS AND CLOUDBURST ...". Is the addition of bright, perhaps strident noises - birdsong, birdsong imitations or some other creature's "cry / released" - a disruptive intrusion, or does it create interesting dimensions and aural texture to the poems? For Legris, this dissonant effect suggests frustration with physical ailments, as is hinted in an award citation to "Nerve Squall" that refers to "a sprung song to the psyche's rampant and spastic synapses, the cacophony of a migraine, the whirling dervish of nerves." Hillman's peevish "preeeee" also connotes some kind of frustration, but references to Goldman Sachs and an unresponsive White House hints the ailments are political and social. For both, the effect boils the words of each poem down to something urgent and primal. Contrast that with another poem we recently examined, Don McKay's "Loss Creek", in which "the wavering note a varied thrush sets on a shelf of air" strikes a note of calm and serenity.

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