Poem of the Week | September 30, 2013

 
This week we’ve dug up a poem by Amy Newman from our 26:2 issue. Newman’s books include Dear EditorfallCamera Lyrica, and Order, or Disorder. She is Presidential Research Professor at Northern Illinois University.
 
Author’s note:

“–fall away” is from my book fall, a collection of poems that uses as its formal structure the 72 dictionary definitions of the word “fall.”
 
Like almost every writer I know, I love the dictionary’s grand attempts and its noble dissembling, its pretense to define everything perfectly while at the same time being—obviously, since it is made of language—unable to. How does that tiny word “fall” propose to explicate the essence of all that’s involved in fall: not only “to yield to temptation,” “to diminish,” and “to succumb to” but all that is the season of decline that is Autumn, and not only Autumn, but the entire “sin of disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and the consequent loss of innocence and grace of all his descendants” that became the expulsion from paradise and the creation of our world?
 
When I came across this noble failure of a definition one day, I was taken with the attempt of this word to explore falling in language; it was especially interesting because language is one of the essential tools of poetry, and the whole dictionary now appeared to me as an example of Ammons’ idea of poetry as “a verbal means to a nonverbal source.” I thought I’d try to write poems, using the definitions as the poems’ titles, and the work eventually became fall. The epigraph for the book is from Rilke: “How little at home we are in the interpreted world,” and in “—fall away” the speaker recognizes that diminishment is an inescapable aspect of existence, and that the design of day into twilight, of late summer into fall— gardens waning for a coming, bleaker season, animals fighting for ever slimmer resources—is our design.

 
fall away. 1. to decline; languish; weaken. 2. to withdraw support; part company
 

The day casts a loose, languid spell, a reckless,
forgetful lover, and I am undone again, hurt,
wet, fresh to its wantings. This secondary place,
its tertiary greenings, the expiration of the grasses
into my lungs, dressing me up inside.

 

I have left off from the wanting.
The days of squirrel skin and little graves,
of call and response, brimmed up
with amulets I cannot name:
hard, dark feather, headless crow.

 

The sacred losses, having fallen.
We cast off the bad memory
as a useless skin, and left it out by the fence,
crisp as straw. In evening, daylight decreasing
as afternoon begins to forget herself

 

and the vines, tenacious, desperate,
loosen their grasp, the petals bowing,
the vegetation shedding rain.
We loved the gardens,
so pregnant, emerging. But then they grew fallow

 

and sloped with their weight, like the necks
of the deer at the end of the season, skinny
and haunted. So breathtaking, so ready
for their end. Like any gorgeous thing,
they’ll fall away.

 

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