Braided Be­tween the Bro­ken

New England Review - - Reflections - Kelli Rus­sell Agodon

This morn­ing apolo­gies were fall­ing from the trees and the ap­ples

were be­ing ig­nored.

There's a chap­ter in our lives where I tried to shred pages,

where I tried to re­write the tale. Let's call that chap­ter, The Numb­ness,

or The Bore­dom, or the place where we for­got we were alive.

That morn­ing I woke up and wan­dered out­side

onto the back­trail, past the No Tres­pass­ing sign into the arms of an ever­green or a black bear. It didn't mat­ter

who held me then; I was moss, the lichen, the mush­room grow­ing on the fallen log.

No one ex­pects per­fec­tion, ex­cept when they do, which is al­ways. Even you, king

of the quiet, crash when I talk about my bro­ken­ness.

Cover up, your frac­tures are show­ing.

In my life I try to apol­o­gize for things I haven't done yet. Those are the bruised ap­ples of me,

the pos­si­ble fruit rot­ting in the field.

Re­mem­ber when I kept re­play­ing melan­choly? Re­mem­ber when I opened our melody with a switchblade?

Rip out the car­pet. Mow down the dahlias. Let’s ruin our lives . . .

It felt good to hurt then— un­til it didn't, un­til we were left

with bad floor­ing, a gar­den where noth­ing grew.

You're ask­ing about the next chap­ter and the one af­ter that. You're ask­ing

what time I'll be home and if I need a cloth to buff up my halo.

Let's put a comma here. Let's put in a semi-colon and think about

the next sen­tence.

I dream of erasers. I dream of white­out,

I dream of the song where the phar­ma­cist doesn't judge me for not be­ing able to make it through the day with­out some sort of pill.

Kelli Rus­sell Agodon

r e a d e r' s n o t e b o o k

of the night, stop­ping to con­sider the moon on his way to an empty bed. Here is the poem in full:

Grop­ing back to bed af­ter a piss I part thick cur­tains, and am star­tled by The rapid clouds, the moon's clean­li­ness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shad­owed gar­dens lie Un­der a cav­ernous, a wind-picked sky. There's some­thing laugh­able about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart (Stone-coloured light sharp­en­ing the roofs be­low)

High and pre­pos­ter­ous and sep­a­rate— Lozenge of love! Medal­lion of art! O wolves of mem­ory! Im­mense­ments! No,

One shivers slightly, look­ing up there. The hard­ness and the bright­ness and the plain Far-reach­ing sin­gle­ness of that wide stare

Is a re­minder of the strength and pain Of be­ing young; that it can't come again, But is for oth­ers undi­min­ished some­where.

“Sad Steps” is it­self a con­ver­sa­tion, a re­sponse to Sir Philip Sid­ney's son­net XXXI, which be­gins “With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!” In Sid­ney's poem, the speaker ex­pe­ri­ences a “fel­low­ship,” find­ing in the moon's “wan” face a mir­ror of his own heart­sick­ness. Is love, the speaker wishes to know, as tor­tur­ous for ce­les­tial bod­ies as it is for earthly ones: pride, scorn, in­grat­i­tude?

Larkin's re­sponse isn't the first poetic en­gage­ment with Sid­ney's text. Wordsworth's Po­ems in Two Vol­umes, first pub­lished in 1807, in­cludes a son­net that very nearly bor­rows its first two lines from Sid­ney, chang­ing only “skies” to “sky” and plac­ing the sec­ond line in quotes: “With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the sky, / ‘How silently, and with how wan a face!'” Wordsworth de­picts the moon as “on high / Run­ning among the clouds,” its lofti­ness and speed sharply con­trasted against Sid­ney's moon, whose move­ments are slow but whose suf­fer­ing ap­pears quite hu­man. Wordsworth's moon is a “God­dess.” She is “Queen both for beauty and for majesty,” a fig­ure who gives us in­sight into the eter­nal.

In “Sad Steps,” we find a re­fusal of both Sid­ney's and Wordsworth's moons.

apart be­low)

sep­a­rate— art! No,

there. plain stare

pain again, some­where.

The end words func­tion as mark­ers, clearly in­di­cat­ing the poem's con­cerns with dis­tance and sep­a­ra­tion, with art, and with the pain of grow­ing older.

Larkin be­gins the sec­ond stanza by ex­pand­ing the poem's gaze to show us the moon's in­flu­ence on its sur­round­ings. Gar­dens are shad­owed in sharp streaks of light, the sky scraped as if by nails. But, be­fore the stanza can be­come too des­o­late, the speaker punc­tures the po­etry of the mo­ment with cri­tique. “There's some­thing laugh­able about this,” he ob­serves, ef­fec­tively de­tach­ing him­self and read­ers from the scene. None of us must give in to the moon's grav­i­ta­tional or literary at­trac­tions. And although Larkin im­me­di­ately fol­lows up with more com­pelling lan­guage about the moon—the way it “dashes through clouds that blow/ loosely as cannon-smoke”—we can­not for­get that these de­scrip­tions are meant to be un­der­stood as “laugh­able.”

Last sum­mer, as I walked the yard, I never had a prob­lem re­trac­ing the sad steps of the poem's first two stan­zas, which cre­ate such a vivid clus­ter of im­ages: the man stum­bling through the dark­ness, the sud­den light from the win­dow, the gar­dens in stark sil­hou­ette, and the aw­ful hol­lows of the sky at 4 a.m. Even the sixth line, although ab­stract, re­mains mem­o­rable be­cause it's voice-driven, so clearly spo­ken in one of Larkin's dom­i­nant reg­is­ters—that of dis­dain.

What fol­lows “There's some­thing laugh­able about this,” how­ever, al­ways made me stum­ble. The sen­tence, which starts with the sixth line, then con­tin­ues for two more stan­zas, in­ter­rupted by paren­the­ses, fol­lowed by an em dash and four frag­men­tary ex­cla­ma­tions:

There's some­thing laugh­able about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart (Stone-coloured light sharp­en­ing the roofs be­low)

an ars poet­ica. Larkin's speaker re­jects overblown, fan­ci­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Let younger po­ets make friends or sil­ver idols of the moon; the writer edg­ing into his mid-for­ties does not have that lux­ury. If it is true that the moon mir­rors hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, then let that look­ing glass be ac­cu­rate, sharp. For Larkin, what­ever light the moon re­flects does not have as its source a mid­dle-aged in­som­niac. The moon's cold stare re­minds “of the strength and pain / Of be­ing young,” be­cause it is the young who pos­sess a so­lar ra­di­ance; they are the rea­son for the moon's il­lu­mi­na­tion.

The enor­mous dis­tance be­tween here-on-earth and there-in-the-sky be­comes the same dis­tance as ex­ists be­tween the lone­li­ness of mid­dle age and those ex­quis­ite highs and lows of “be­ing young.” The speaker's twen­ties and thir­ties “can't come again”; but, like the moon, which keeps on re­flect­ing—whether the cur­tains are closed or not—vi­tal­ity re­mains “undi­min­ished,” undimmed for other peo­ple in other places.

“Sad Steps” is a di­a­logue with the moon and with other po­ems about the moon. And, in that dis­cus­sion, we be­come mo­men­tar­ily less alone, less ter­ri­fied of grow­ing older, maybe some of us even less un­happy in our mar­riages. Although the poem doesn't of­fer so­lace—youth can't and won't “come again”—it may be enough that the body still feels some­thing, even if that some­thing is the ur­gency of wak­ing for a “piss.” If noth­ing else, the speaker can con­tinue to push against corny, over­wrought de­pic­tions of the moon. He can keep step­ping for­ward, sadly. Or not.

Tonight, the dog noses the lawn, try­ing to sniff out the right spot for a pee. It has been a year, and I know the poem by heart: wedge-shad­owed gar­dens lie / Un­der a cav­ernous, a wind-picked sky. Tonight, I want to walk through the brighter tufts of grass, the places striped by moon­light. They are sharp. They are ra­di­ant-green with the cer­tainty of this con­ver­sa­tion.

Je­hanne Dubrow

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