VI. Fitting Frames
—Connie S. Tettenborn
Ripples in the Fabric
April 3,1992: George Smoot of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory announces discovery of ‘ripples in the fabric of space-time’ that created galaxies and empty space. —Washington Post, May 3, 1992
Of ripples in the fabric of space-time
we are alerted: in a place once blank
they spring from meter and inherit rhyme.
How like the growing nautilus’s climb
is our galactic spiral, as a bank
of ripples in the fabric of space-time
where human words may radiate sublime
reflections, reasoned acts: what careless prank
could spring from meter and inherit rhyme?
Must we, like some inchoate mollusk, slime
back into an abandoned shell that sank
from ripples in the fabric of space-time?
Or else, emerging from that paradigm,
can we escape this sluggish holding-tank
and ripple through the fabric of space-time,
springing from meter, inheriting rhyme?
Form gives shape to what we tell,
poets of the past declared;
and so I write a villanelle.
Free verse tends to puff and swell:
meaning sharpens when ensnared.
Form adds grace to what we tell.
A poem is a citadel,
as structured as the poet cared,
thus I write a villanelle.
In shifting dreams we mostly dwell,
in shapeless images unshared.
Form lends sense to what we tell.
Rhyming words peal like a bell,
sounding sweeter when they’re paired;
and so I write a villanelle.
Writing badly or writing well,
I count out the rhymes and dare.
Form gives shape to what I tell,
and still, I wrote a
Beauty that comes
To form an opinion
Out on a tightrope
ahead—always in motion
to not fall through
the distance below. Not given
to seeing the length of the wire,
where exactly it takes me,
I steady my anxious
thoughts, take my pencil,
write down what I can.
And knowing I walk in a sleep
where distinctions are veiled
by distance, I trust
the ground of my being,
keep to the feel of stepping
into my own next step.
The letters tell their story without words,
and by their forms the Names float up like clouds.
The crowns upon them slit the klaf* like swords,
the spaces pouring graces,
as parchment quill embraces,
and I am moving ever floating towards.
The fiery black on fiery whiteness falls
across the parchment throbbing and alive.
Now sure and strong, now trembling and unsure,
the inner power waning,
the circumstance explaining,
that I am watching, yet I see no more.
The words below the line produce the light,
and bold interpretations come to mind.
Though splendid incantations fill the night,
the rapid shallow breathing
as if the soul is leaving,
and I pursue my spirit in its flight.
—Michael E. Stone
—Michael E. Stone
various kinds of breathing
Did I know you at fourteen
in algebra class when
I drew millions of circles
to stave off boredom?
Surely, I knew you at twenty-five
but did I think of you, even
consider your influence, when
again, to ward off something,
this time depression, so deep
I sat for hours, for days, weeks,
months, drawing circles.
No entertainment nor social
engagement wooed me from the orbs.
Only the circular motion soothed
my troubled soul. You showed colors
as they really were, juxtaposed to create
a harmony that eluded me
except for the serenity of circles.
My dark period passed. I emerged
from my cocoon to a cacophony
of sounds, sights, society, still intact,
eager to join, except when I picked up
pen I could no longer linger over circles.
What was the point?
The Small Blue Box
The blue tin box that once held cigars
Mother used for wool, needles and cotton
For mending four children’s grubby socks and clothes
With nimble fingers and love mother mended and sewed.
We loved the blue box with the flowers
Its enamel pockmarked and chipped
Too dangerous for small hands and prying fingers
It was out of bounds for us.
It came with us to the ghetto
And survived concentration camps
Broken, battered but alive.
Grown children left home, grandchildren came along
With tears in their eyes and tears in their clothes
Grandma took out her magic mending-box again
Wiped away their tears and made everything right.
Now the blue box, lovingly preserved
Occupies a place of honor in my home
Telling tales of Divine Providence to generations
A mute witness to wondrous miracles and
Human perseverance in mending lives.
Set on my desk
it glows iridescent as a
peacock’s tail: turquoise,
ocher, sea-glow green and
purple, shades that change with
every shift of light. I could make a
metaphor of this precious glass egg,
a gift from a beloved. I could say the
symbolism of an oval without an end,
the mystery of a womb, a seed,
the light tricks that change
what I see. But sometimes
a paperweight is simply
a paperweight, so
let us let it be.
I thank you
—Sheila Golburgh Johnson
ENTERING THE CATHEDRAL
Like Jonas by the fish was I received by it,
swung and swept in its dark waters,
driven to the deeps by it and beyond many rocks.
Without any touching of its teeth, I tumbled into it
and with no more struggle than a mote of dust
entering the door of a cathedral, so huge were its jaws.
How heel over head was I hurled down
the broad road of its throat, stopped inside
its chest wide as a hall, and like Jonas I stood up
asking where the beast was and, finding it nowhere,
there in grease and sorrow I build my bower.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
Catalogue for a small show of words
1. Word for the image of new fallen snow on a leafless tree.
2. Word for the scent of jasmine dangling in the air.
3. Word for the sound of crystal shattering on a tile floor.
4. Word for the feeling of love in your throat in a dream.
5. Word for learning of a friend’s suicide.
The Oak Table
My neighbor tells about the time as a child
when a tornado headed towards their farmhouse
and his mother took him and his 2 sisters
and they all huddled under the Oak dining table.
Chandelier, then roofbeam, then walls
all crashed down on top of and around them.
He heard cows screaming and bawling and
a noise like a freight train, it’s always
a freight train,
coming right through the dining room.
Then the dust was so thick they choked
and gagged and
when it cleared they crawled out
There was nothing left but that Oak table
amidst a pile of rubble that was once
This table, he said, hands on the table
we were seated at drinking beer.
Some things endure, he said. This table
outlived Grandma and Momma and
it will outlive you and me too.
This groove here, he pointed, that’s where
the roofbeam hit.
You go all the way back down the line,
to the loggers, the craftsman who
built things to last, or
the farm woman who had an eye for
what was solid and enduring, but
the line of a man’s fate runs straight
and is drawn in the dust
by such small choices.
If they are thoughtful, careful,
the line cuts in one direction, hasty
or careless, it cuts in another, he said.
The barn collapsed, he finishes;
all the cows were killed.
5 On Form
1) The First Line Is the Hardest
What’s new? I work a day-job, and compose
a sonnet every weekday. It is not
that difficult. There is a kind of spot
you have to let the mind find, a pause
where the gravities can come to equipoise,
a wide white silence, a minute black dot
which any number of elephants of thought
can balance on. From there on in it flows,
or at least the problem has been framed:
mind’s journeymen then make the pieces fit.
And what’s the good of all that? you may say.
Call it something like a balance-sheet
for soul’s accounts. A pastime for the condemned.
It keeps the little men in white away.
2) Pas de Deux
A formal poem is a pas de deux
Where the one partner, with all he requires
Is form; the other is the poet, you,
With your perceptions, memories, and desires;
Where each learns her capacity, and fires
The other on and on to ever-varied
Displays; but all is spoiled if either tires
Or lets himself be overwhelmed or carried.
And yet there are those lovely leans and lifts
Where mate on mate all will-lessly reclines
Or the balance of their strength more subtly shifts,
Those pauses eye to eye, where each divines
The other not as something in the way
But deepest self, and what one wanted most to say.
To write in forms you have to wait
In empty rooms for words to come,
To stare where gapes the open gate.
To write in forms, you have to wait.
The nerve is taut. The clock says Late.
Still you must listen and be dumb.
To write in forms, you have to wait
In empty rooms for words to come.
4) Devotion’s Prose
The sonnet is a form that mystics made,
Worshippers of the Light’s unfading rose.
Its cadences were their devotions’ prose,
The currency in which they used to trade
Their ecstasies, of which time has mislaid
The cypher, discontinuing the praise
That round the mortal image ranged the rays
Of the great Sun; strange that such fame should fade!
Yet in the form itself there still abides
A kind of centering virtue that gives hope,
As if the world in its enormity
Is but the aura of a soul; the sides
Of all contention balance round a shape
That cannot change, nor forfeit dignity.
A sonnet is the original sound-bite
A thought-compressor, handy and compact,
For meditations concrete or abstract.
It takes you fifty seconds to recite,
Speaking slowly; and within that tight
Compass, there is room to state a fact,
Anticipate how others would react,
Explain how you would see it, in the light
Of other circumstance which you relate,
And lastly give a learned opinion, backed
By literary precedent. That is
One possibility. Or you may state
Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis,
And wait until the couplet to retract.
Sonnet After Billy Collins
First let’s discuss the number of lines:
Fourteen. You can tie them together with twine
As if they are objects instead of mere words,
Tiny nuggets of bread thrown down for the birds.
A poem, after all, is a physical thing
You can bundle in boxes with scissors and string.
Though it follows parameters set long ago
As to rhyme, pacing, content and rhythmical flow,
Let’s remember its limits, keep it in its place;
It’s just ink on paper that might be erased.
Despite the beguiling surprise of its turn,
Pyrotechnics that sparkle with wit as they burn,
and no matter what legends and spells it evokes,
it would only take seconds to go up in smoke.