Last week, I posted a poem by Marge Piercy about male-female relationships that immediately sparked comments from readers, both positive and negative. The topic clearly does not get old.
This week, Piercy tackles heavy themes like faith and justice, via nature’s impartiality and indifference. An equally timeless theme, I would say, although one that is likely to provoke less dialogue.
Here is the lovely poem, one of my favorite pieces by Piercy:
The Pernickety Plum Tree
The fourth year after we planted it
the Shiro plum tree gave us
two perfect plums
the color of slow clear river
running golden green in the sun,
hue of young grass,
with a fine perfume and savor
sweet and juicy in the mouth.
From the whole tree, graceful
and long limbed, two plums.
Enough to command our attention,
just enough: we each have
half a plum,
justice with a knife.
From a thousand flickering leaves,
from a hundred white blossoms
falling like stars on the path,
two plums: a fable
of highly selective productivity,
or the difficulty of fruition,
or the wisdom of a lazy tree
that we feed, that we water, that we coddle
and pick coppery beetles from,
of our own gullibility
strung along with two plums.
The bookshelves at my new meditation center in my newly new hometown of Miami. Way back when, I went to middle and high school here.
And, because life likes to remind us who’s in charge, the meditation center is, of course, directly across the street from my former high school.
Happy Columbus Day weekend, Americas!
For those who favor such categorizations, Marge Piercy’s poetry can easily fall under the label “Feminist Poetry.” As such, her poetry wouldn’t be an obvious first choice to bring along during the famous Carmel Car Week in August. For some reason, though, her book “The Twelve Spoke Wheel Flashing” ended up in my carry on, and I read her poems while accompanying my husband during the car shows. I will share a few of the pictures I took of the poems, framed by classic automobiles, starting this week.
The poem pictured to the right is an excellent example of Piercy at her best, when she is clear, thorough and cutting. Below is the full text of the dystopian piece.
The Meaningful Exchange
The man talks
the woman listens
The man is a teapot
with a dark green brew
He pours into the woman.
She carries his sorrows away
sloshing in her belly.
The man swings off lighter.
Sympathy quickens him.
He watches women pass.
The woman lumbers away.
Inside his troubles are
snaking up through her throat.
Her body curls delicately
about them, worrying, nudging
them into some new meaningful shape
squatting now at the centre of her life.
How much lighter I feel,
the man says, ready
How heavy I feel, the woman
says: this must be love.
The unlaid egg
is a grantor
Where the breeze reigns
Bite off the broken nail
Celebrant of drops
According to The Poetry Foundation, Donal Justice (1925 – 2004) was “one of the twentieth century’s most quietly influential poets.” He was a beloved teacher to many of the current greats, including Pulitzer Prize-winners Rita Doveand Mark Strand. A poet who can actually teach others is exceedingly rare because the task asks for a great deal of generosity, a trait that the very private métier often lacks.
His own work holds a quiet reverence without being dull or academic. Rather, it combines precision, heart and ease. Below is one of my favorite samples of his ability to make traditional form relevant and fun.
Ode to a Dressmaker’s Dummy
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover. Metal stand. Instructions included. –Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
O my coy darling, still
You wear for me the scent
Of those long afternoons we spent,
The two of us together,
Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
Of household spies
And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
Which, often enough, at dusk,
Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.
How like the terrified,
Shy figure of a bride
You stood there then, without your clothes,
Drawn up into
So classic and so strict a pose
Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
Or was it only some obscure
Shape of my mother’s youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
Crept up your ankles and you stood
Hiding your sex as best you could?—
Prim ghost the evening light shone through.
Send three of your best poems to firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in our new “Poem of the Month” feature. Submissions close September 30th so take advantage of the weekend to send your work out to the world!