Poem of the Week | September 22, 2014

This week we feature a new poem by Ann Keniston. Keniston is the author of the poetry collection, The Caution of Human Gestures, and a chapbook, November Wasps: Elegies, as well as coeditor of The New American Poetry of Engagement: A 21st Century Anthology. Her poems have appeared in Antioch Review, Interim, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She is also a scholar of contemporary American poetry and associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno with her husband and two sons.
Author’s note:

I first drafted this poem after a long period of not writing, which may be why it is so crowded with images and emotions, as well as details from actual dreams. In revision, I tried to clarify and connect its parts—the dream’s two scenes, the story about the catatonic girl I read about a long time ago in the Boston Globe, the references to birds, and the father’s actual situation—but I confess that the connection between them still feels somewhat unclear to me. I suppose the poem in fact is about this failure of connection. Maybe this is why it feels so sad to me: the poem (and I, as its creator) keep getting to the verge of expressing something definitive, then fall back from it. Or perhaps the poem is in fact a kind of elegy, for many things at once. The final sentence describes what I was watching as I wrote the poem. The leaves of the sycamore in my back yard really do all seem to fall off in a single day in November, and both scrub and Stellar jays coexist (but also bicker) there.


Double Lake


Because my father cannot walk, I dreamed
we walked beside a double lake where marsh birds


gathered in profusion, beautiful long-legged
waders visible without binoculars. And then


my son began to name them while the dusk
collapsed around us, but slowly, delaying


the dark, or I delayed it since I made
this scene, inserting light, then bits of dark


to fill the gaps. A girl I read about fell
into an empty pool and broke her spine


and became not catatonic or brain-dead,
not a cripple, her mother thought,


but a vessel made by God
for other people’s suffering, a wick


or cipher, still and steadfast no matter
what she’d taken in. Most afternoons, the sick and dying


gathered outside her window to see her
on her special bed, thin-limbed, dressed


all in pink, until they felt, or thought
they felt, their pain lift away and then


knelt down to worship her all over the lawn.
In my dream, my father thanked me


but I knew his pain continued, contained
and hidden by his bones and flesh like


an object he refused to give me
out of mercy. Then we were driving


through the dark, the two of us exhausted,
until I found a stranger’s house with people


sleeping everywhere, on beds and chairs, the floor.
Casually he walked in and lay down


and slept among them. This must be how I tally
everything I haven’t lost yet, lifting


each loved thing, then relinquishing it
to mourn its loss, redundantly desiring sleep


because I’m already sleeping. I had to wake
for the dream to do its work. And so I woke


and waited for the actual thin
November sunlight to enter the yard


while the leaves fell down in bunches and
two pairs of jays—deep blue,


oblivious—flashed between the trees.