The willows are thinking again about thickness,
slowness, lizard skin on hot rock,
and day by day this imaging transforms them
into what we see: dragons in leaf, draped scales
alongside the river of harried, spring-stirred silt.
The magpie recites Scriabin in early morning as a mating song,
and home is just a place you started out,
the only place you still know how to think from,
so that that place is mated to this
by necessity as well as choice,
though now you have to start again from here,
and it isn’t home. Venus rising in the early evening
beside the Travelodge, as wayward and causal as
will, or beauty, or as once we willed beauty to be —
though this was in retrospect, and only practice
for some other life. Do you still love poetry?
Below the willows, in the dry winter reeds,
banjo frogs begin a disconcerting raga,
one note each, the rustling blades grow green —
and it tires, the lichen-spotted tin canteen
suspended in the river weeds like a turtle
up for air: such a curious tiredness deflected there.
And what would you give up,
what would give up, in the beautiful
false logic of math, or Greek? In the sum
of the possible, long ago in the summer grass…
Here beside the river I close my eyes: there
the little girls lean continuously across a rusted
sign that says Don’t Feed the Swans
and feed the swans. The swans are reasoning beings;
the young cygnets, hatched from pins
and old mattress stuffing, bright-eyed, learning
what has bread, and what doesn’t. What doesn’t
have to do with this is all the rest:
one more chance to blow out the candles and wish
for things we wished for
that wouldn’t happen unless we closed our eyes.
Not the gingko or the level gaze, or the speaking voice
beneath the pillow, or the waking in the morning
with a name. But cloud — or grief, when grief
is loneliness and you close your eyes. Speech,
when speech is loneliness, and you close your eyes.
Notes on the PoemThese are poignant, solitary ruminations in this excerpt from Roo Borson's "Summer Grass", from her 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Short Journey Upriver Towards Oishida. Let's explore the literary device that gently ameliorates the poem's wistful undercurrents. What do all of these fragments of lines have in common? "The willows are thinking ..." "The magpie recites ..." "... that place is mated to this ..." These and other subtle constructions throughout the poem excerpt use the device of personification to apply human attributes to non-human objects or beings. What might be that effect's purpose here? The narrator is clearly lonely and possibly grieving: "But cloud — or grief, when grief is loneliness and you close your eyes. Speech, when speech is loneliness, and you close your eyes." Does imagining that one's surroundings are filled with feeling and sympathetic entities perhaps assuage that sense of desolation? Perhaps the narrator is striving, however listlessly, to not feel so alone.