My Favorite Poem from the Past 2 Years

My column today will consist almost entirely of a poem.  It is my favorite poem from the past two years and one of my favorite ever.  It was written by Felicia Mitchell, a poet who teaches at Emory & Henry College in Virginia and will read at Poetry Hickory at 6:30 on February 9 at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory.  Mitchell is the author of 3 chapbooks, including last year’s The Cleft of the Rock, which I reviewed in Wild Goose Poetry Review (http://wildgoosepoetryreview.com/files/fa09_reviews.pdf).  Both that collection and the poem below illustrate some of the features common to Mitchell’s outstanding work:  evocative imagery, a strong sense of the dramatic, an awareness of the vitality of connections and all that we too often take for granted, and most importantly, a defiant embrace of life.  Here is “Album,” first published in Blood Orange Review in 2008.

Album

1.

In the photograph I do not take,
my father’s feeding tube
feeds itself on his body:
the body that he has willed to outlast
every possible medical intervention.
And though he is not underground,
or lying in a wooden coffin,
there are flowers around his remains:
the Judas branch I snapped out front,
the hotel’s daffodils, azalea blooms
from my mother’s garden.
All of these fit in a Styrofoam cup.
All of my father fits in one bed.

2.

In the photograph I do not take,
my father is not smiling
but his hand is waving,
its bandages white like flags of surrender.
He is waving at his grandson
whose yo-yo is a pendulum,
whose eyes are very sad,
whose note to his grandpa
written so precisely in a schoolboy’s hand
is answered with the truth
by a man who cannot hear himself speak it:
“Not so good, Guy, not so good.”

3.

In the photograph I do not take,
my mother is out of the picture.
As much as she has seen, she has never seen this.
She has never seen quite this.

4.

In the photograph I do not take,
nobody can see my cousin Walter
seated at the foot of the bed.
My father’s companion since his death,
Walter takes up so little room
not even the night nurse mentions him
to her supervisor, or turns him in to God
for being AWOL from the hereafter.
Walter the politician has no pull now,
but he lets my father in on little secrets
and pulls the blanket over his toes.

5.

In the photograph I do not take,
all my father’s children are standing by
at the same time in the same room.
The black hair John pulled from our father’s head
to mantle his own bald head is long.
Of all of us, he knows the most.
He knows how veins burn out and needles hurt
and nights are long when your roommate sleeps.
He knows how handicapped the healthy are,
how hard it is for them to focus
when they pass through the door downstairs
to halls that smell of old urine.
Our father knows that John knows the most
and holds the hand whose last pulse he counted.
The rest of us fan out like angel wings
on either side, waiting for a sign.

6.

In the photograph I do not take,
I am crying tears like baroque pearls
in different, scattered sizes,
and the miracle is that they fall
painlessly from my tear ducts.
The camera is not on a tripod.
My arm is long enough, my fingers deft.
I can capture myself in time.
Later, I will string the pearls with silk thread
that looks nothing like a feeding tube.
I will wear them to my father’s grave.
Another daughter might bury them.
I will wear them to my father’s funeral
every day I wear them
and I will wear them every day.

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One Response to “My Favorite Poem from the Past 2 Years”

  1. jessiecarty Says:

    wow! i don’t even have the right words tonight to say how wonderful that is, but very moving.

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