Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, November 09, 2012

That Which Snatches

There! You needed harpies today, didn't you? And harpies you shall have... And me? I have a dire need to dispose of a harpie-bug one of my children gave me, so I am going to rest up today and fiddle with The Book of the Red King and do some (alas) light house-drudgery. Tomorrow, White River Junction! Next week, New York City! I hope they will manage at home without me... No doubt they will.

Now you know why I give you a poem for today, rather than rattling on about the contents of my head. This one is from The Foliate Head (U.K.: Stanza Press), available via Stanza Press and elsewhere in Europe and via Amazon in the U.S.

If you're passing by for the first time, you might like to know that my other 2012 books are: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, a novel inspired by events and people stretching over four generations of my paternal family line and set in the Depression, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award of Mercer University Press; the soon-out Thaliad, a blank verse post-apocalyptic epic from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal. Right now the hardcover of the latter is on pre-order discount directly through Phoenicia. It will be available more widely at the end of the month. All three of these books feature exceptional design work, and two have profuse artwork by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, so I have pleasure in them as objects as well as records of what I have made "out of a mouthful of air."

This poem is about harpies, and it too is in blank verse. Wallace Stevens is to blame for interesting me in short blank verse. Or perhaps it is poet William Harmon, with whom I once had a chat about the blank verse of Wallace Stevens. It appeared first at Mezzo Cammin, where I have often published.

That Which Snatches

Vulture-like, the harpies wheel on updrafts
Or settle in the grove of wind-whipped trees,
Their small, secretive faces looking out
Without sign of interest or passion,
As pinched and harsh as soul heads on a stone
Propped up by mourning Puritans on land
Unused to buried bone: winged skulls that glare.
One is singing, Turn away, my bonnie,
Turn away home, and yet there is nowhere
To turn, no home when such weird sisters sing.
In Cretan caves they hang like ungroomed bats,
Letting locks hang, letting the lice parade,
Their molting feathers like some nightmare bed
Where no man fancies lying—that’s a truth
That galls, for only breeze that glances here
And there and then is gone could bear to kiss
Their shriveled, wicked purse of privacies.

Bedraggled, murderous, entirely foul...
If they had hands, the fingers would be small,
As leathery as paws for throwing scat
At queens or prophets. No respect, no cheer,
No proper sentiment for the flawless
Horses of Achilles, their own offspring,
That wept to smell the battle-scent of death.
No sisterly devotion to Iris
Tricked out in sunstruck iridescent drops.
They’ll shriek the dawn awake and howl for flesh,
Heraldic frights so ignorant of evil
They could be us—so self-absorbed, so free.
On branches in the bleeding wood of souls,
They shift their talons, sigh in sleep like doves,
Dreaming of men like birds of paradise,
Of leaf-winged forests tumbling in a storm,
The phoenix burning on her nest of myrrh
Who found this harpied world worth dying for. 

8 comments:

  1. Glad you are harpie-friendly, Robbi!

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  2. You'd better send me The Book of the Red King, so that I can get thinking.

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  3. :) What fun!

    Shall send it next week after the NBA awards--need to put in all my revisions, but tonight I have to reread "Thaliad" (for the 3rd time this week) to check for glitches.

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  4. The never-ending proofing! But it all pays off when you can enjoy the finished book in the sure knowledge that there will be no errors to be found. How I hate that sinking ferruling in the heart when everything is beyond correcting, and the errors are there for all time! Yeughhhhhh!

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  5. I hate spellchecks that correct me and stick in the wrong words. 'feeling', not 'ferruling'!

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  6. Usually they go for the most common word--how strange! And now Rebecca and I are off on an early-morning adventure--take care, all--

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  7. p. s. to Clive: somebody is going to say that's why you should love ebooks! Not me. Room for both.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.