Poem of the Week | April 21, 2011
George Looney: "To Account for Such Grace"
This week we’re proud to feature “To Account for Such Grace” by George Looney, winner of the Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in poetry. The poem is published in our current issue, TMR 34:1. George Looney’s most recent book isOpen Between Us (Turning Point, 2010). His A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness is due from Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2011. His work has been recognized with an individual artist’s fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, two grants from the Ohio Arts Council, and one from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and has won awards from literary journals such as the Missouri Review (in 2003 and 2011), Zone 3, New Letters and the Literary Review. Among other duties, he serves as Chair of the BFA in Creative Writing program he created at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, where he is editor-in-chief of the international literary journal Lake Effect.
Walt Whitman, influenced by Elias Hick’s doctrine of the Inner Light, believed the profane world was the only aspect of the sacred world that was knowable: our only hope for understanding the sacred was in the full experience of this world we know with our inadequate senses. “You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life,” he tells us in “Song of Myself.”
These four poems [of which “To Account for Such Grace” is one] are part of a manuscript written after the loss of my second parent. A little more than a year ago my father, after a rapid decline into dementia, died, and I found myself filled with thoughts of that other realm Whitman believed we could only know through fully knowing this world.
The poems attempt to get at the nature of the spiritual realm, to allow for a momentary experience of it that might imbue this world with solace for the grief that accompanies us here.
To Account for Such Grace
Some nights, light’s particle nature is italicized
by the downward emphasis of a steady rain.
History is the distance between what happened
and what we say happened. A woman without
an umbrella is a frail shadow hunched over
a small flame flickering between her palms
in a shallow alcove, the only light the flame
cupped in her hands and a sixty-watt bulb
somewhere behind her in the niche she’s found
that almost keeps her out of the frenzied rain.
If this were being painted in sixteenth-century Florence,
the woman would be a statue of the only woman
the church could love, the mother of God
the son, and cupped in her delicate, trembling hands
would be the burning heart of God become man,
having flown out of his dying chest with a last wheeze
from the cross. Rain, in the painting, would be
an occasion for the artist to show off his brilliance
with reflective surfaces, nothing more. History
might ask us to ignore the woman’s hands, the calluses,
how they tremble and seem too delicate to hold up
under her grief. No matter is as delicate
as light. Or as alluring as the face of this woman,
having a smoke, waiting out the rain. Entire histories
have been imagined to account for such grace.
Music has transformed the human voice
to make possible even a vague hint of the delicacy
of this woman’s fragrant hands, moist with mist,
reflecting light in ways a Renaissance master
would have bowed down to, envious, rapt.
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