Brenda Shaughnessy

copyright ©2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy

Love comes from ferocious love
or a ferocious lack of love, child.

A to and a from, and an urgency,
a barefoot sprint in the high snow

for the only sagging shack in sight.
No doctor runs through the winter

woods at midnight to bring placebo.
But when he does it’s just too late –

the house all fevered, grief the very
gifts of milk and stew and hearth

offered anyhow. How many tree
limbs are amputated by the self-

important sudden surgery of a gale –
those same limbs tortured further,

re-galed, as spirit-dancing fire?
But the trees don’t experience it

the way it seems to me, like how
all that individual snow clumps

together because it is lonely
and trusts its kind. To be home

is to go somewhere, is velocity,
the same urgent comfort

of your name. You’ll lack nothing,
child, and I will never let you go.

Notes on the Poem

Brenda Shaughnessy's poem "Hearth" explores just how fiery love and devotion can be. Building her case within a slim, kinetic column of striking couplets, does Shaughnessy convince you that love this fervent is a good and desired thing, or perhaps something else? The poem establishes a heightening pace with intriguing pairings, benign ("a to and a from"), disconcerting ("ferocious love / or a ferocious lack of love") and dramatic ("a barefoot sprint in the high snow") culminating in grief and seeming violence. That last is visited almost clinically on tree limbs that then fuel "spirit-dancing fire", which presumably brings comfort and warmth. The poem is entitled "Hearth", of course ... The somewhat bewildering juxtapositions continue, though, with: "To be home is to go somewhere, is velocity" Isn't arriving home supposed to be a welcome cessation of travel? Isn't home where you stop at the hearth, glad not to have to go somewhere? While "you'll lack nothing, / child" sounds comforting ... "and I will never let you go" has a fervor to it that could be passionate commitment, but could possibly be almost threatening, especially coupled with the unsettling presence of the preceding phrase "urgent comfort."

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