Poem of the Week | May 18, 2015

This week we feature a new poem by Sarah Estes. Estes is a poet, essayist and science writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic, New Scientist, Christian Science Monitor, Agni, Cimarron, Cider Press Review, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, New Orleans Review, Plume, Salon, Slate, Southern Review and elsewhere. Her first book of poetry, Field Work, will be published by Cider Press Review later this year.
 
Author’s note:

This poem, though updated periodically, was written over a decade ago now while I was studying poetry with Jorie Graham and D.A. Powell while attending Harvard Divinity School. To me, it has always functioned as a quiet fulcrum near the center of my larger manuscript. It was difficult to place, most likely due to its length and somewhat unusual (borderline excessive?) use of Orphic Utterances. I have a Teutonic tendency toward philosophical heavy-handedness which is one of the driving forces of my poetry and personality, but also probably one of my worst faults. I like to think that it is evened out by competing drives towards humor and a monastic streak in my temperament which just kind of lets things go until they vapor off into the atmosphere. And of course, there is the inner Mt. Vesuvius which wins often enough and then it’s back to ground zero. These are some of the most prominent literary and personal tendencies that I grapple with while writing. I hope to gain the upper hand as I get older and wiser. This poem, having been written at the tender age of 23 is an interesting artifact to the youthful iterations of this struggle, which of course return again and again in different forms as we get older.
 
Poetry can and does function as a physical and mental form of discipline for me, a bulwark against consumerism, and the risk of losing a sense of the discrete, the necessarily separate process of formation and evolution of the self in the digital age. (Yes, I know and am quite grateful of the fact that you are likely reading this online!)
 
I spend a considerable amount of time trying to get out of the ‘meta’ both personally and artistically, to not dwell too long in this space, to focus on the procedural and pragmatic, and generally just get on with things. That being said, I love this poem because it is kind of a reckless embrace of the ‘meta,’ a ‘prophet’s addiction to the hope of another world’ if I can just go ahead and quote one of my other poems. Whatever happens to us all at the end, based on Stephen Hawking, a bunch of 19th century Germans, and my (medically necessary!) post-partum experiences with pain killers and steroids, I like to imagine it will be a blurred vision of the past, present and even future, a strange union of the nano-pragmatics of quotidian life and the grander sweep of the cosmos. I hope it will be some sort of ecstatic union with the God we’ve learned to think we are too smart to stupidly hope for, but secretly hope still exists. That he’ll be standing there at the finish line, arms outstretched–with our grandmas, uncles and parents. With the handful of friends and loves ripped away, suddenly and without explanation, before their time. This poem is a stab at articulating that feeling, that hope. Like every poet, I fail in the face of it all, but keep on trying anyway.

 

Après Nous, le Déluge

Now he who plants and he who waters are one.

 

Morning

 

The open fields have love for you.
Do not deny them.

 

Your days are numbered.
Count them.

 

Mercy hides.
The dream of life surrounds,

 

Hours shine. Days cry.
Nights are wrapped.

 

Do not imagine yourself a patient mother,
a ready father, a knowing host.

  
 

Afternoon

 

It is hard to imagine
a valley
far enough away from here.

 

Leap towards the yawning noon.
And do not lose yourself in loss.

 

Imagine the bright noonday meal,
the sun.

 

You may arrange your memories at the table,
but do not count them.

 

The telling is not yours.
The release from time is not your own.

 

I have come to this:
I own nothing.

 

It seems:
Nothingness owns me.

 

Lie down, imagine yourself young.
Memory is the only gift that lasts –

 

Fantasy, fear or wonder?
Resolve yourself.

 

The bereaved have the gift of years.
Their bodies are awash in sand.

 

Is death a gift
that should be forgiven?

  
 

Night

 

The mothers make
light and desperate pleas.

 

Darkness is unbelieving,
beauty a surprise.

 

The mundane answer
shakes its dusty covers.

 

The wolves join with the coyotes,
unknowingly.

 

Ghost dogs run the porch,
baying the benevolent bay of dogs.

 

They are not in the least bit comforting.

 

Memory is remembered.
When sleep is overcome.

 

Go softly.
And come when you are called.

 

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