On Clear Nights

Suzanne Buffam

copyright ©2010 Suzanne Buffam

At most two thousand stars
Can be seen with the naked eye from earth.

A difficult number to grapple with,
Too large and, on the other hand, too small.

A simple mathematical equation
May throw the problem into relief.

Consider a battlefield.
The fighting has ended

And the bodies lie still in the grass.
How many dead soldiers

Equal the sky overhead?

Notes on the Poem

Suzanne Buffam offers 73 "Little Commentaries" in her 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poetry collection. Their brevity might suggest they are all unambiguous and to the point - there are few words and little time to waste, it seems. However, the ostensibly light format, in length and tone, is often disarming in the purest sense. Many contain depths not evident at first glance, or that clutch the reader in the final lines and beats. The "little commentaries" we've considered previously include "On Joy" and "On Flags". Does the voice in those pieces and even how they and their companion pieces are classified as "little" come across as humble, self-deprecating, but maybe go so far as to diminish the important themes woven between the lines? Is the potent comparison of the night sky and the tangible, tragic aftermath of war minimized by being labelled as "little"? In fact, is this equation actually made more powerful because it is - perhaps disingenuously - described as simple? All of the "little commentaries" are titled in the same fashion: "On [subject]", suggesting "This poem is on the subject of ..." Interestingly, this piece's title is in the same form, but carries with it some poignant ambiguity. While it is "on the subject of clear nights", the phrase "on clear nights" could mean the time at which contemplations resulting in such powerful analogies occur.

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