Poem of the Week | July 06, 2015

This week we’re delighted to offer a new poem by Brian Brodeur. Brodeur is the author of the poetry collections Natural Causes (Autumn House Press 2012) and Other Latitudes (University of Akron Press 2008), as well as the chapbooks Local Fauna (Kent State University Press 2015) and So the Night Cannot Go on Without Us (WECS Press 2007). New poems appear in American Poetry Review and Measure. Brian curates the digital archive “How a Poem Happens,” an online anthology of over two hundred interviews he’s conducted with poets. This fall he will join the faculty of Indiana University East as Assistant Professor of English, Creative Writing with a Poetry Focus.
 
Author’s note:

This poem emerged from a yearlong obsession with the sonnet. Following the birth of my daughter in January 2014, every poem I drafted leaned Petrarchan. The moment Anna arrived, life became joyfully chaotic; I used to joke with my wife, as one of us cleaned projectile poop from the nursery wall, “All’s changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born.” Though I didn’t recognize it then, the strictures of the sonnet form offered a coping mechanism, a temporary stay against confusion. Also, between late-night and early-morning feedings, I’d dip into The Sonnets of Borges, the Penguin Classics edition—Fourteen lines was about all I could concentrate on in one sitting. As an homage, “Heritage” parodies Borges, in much the same way Borges saluted his own literary paragons throughout his career: by composing sonnets after or about or in praise of Cervantes, Whitman, Joyce, Spinoza, et alia. When I read “Heritage” now, the poem drips with the anxieties of recent fatherhood. More explicitly, though, “Heritage” strikes me as an effort to understand my family’s obscure past as a means of negotiating the murkier obscurity of the future.

 

Heritage

I know little or nothing of the Borges
—Borges

 

Though even less is known about the Brodeurs,
I won’t presume to speak against or for them
and interrupt their slack-jawed stoicism,
but I imagine one in beaver furs
aboard a battered skiff, missing his mother,
his frozen beard encrusted with sea foam
as he skirts the coast in search of someplace warm
and tries to fathom what the tide-wash mutters.

 

If by some fluke of physics I could reach
his vessel as he floundered onto shore,
what would I say? He never learned to read,
and spoke no English. Staggering up the beach,
he’d grunt, at best, a tired bonsoir before
he left me to my own obscurity.

 

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