Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tuesday Poem - A Cappella

for Chrissie

She plucks a B-flat
from the adjoining room

bounces it
across the patterned carpet

into the laps of five
hungry women waiting.

They suck on it
in round, red mouths

coax one note
into four then more -

a single B-flat start
and the flames in the grate

waver: there is something else
now roaming the night

an aural Aurora Nebula
lighting the dark.


Every second Thursday evening for the past fifteen years, five of us have gathered together to sing. Come what may, music has been one of the constants of our busy lives. It has buoyed and sustained us, provided us with inspiration, companionship, adventure and (my thanks to Rebecca Loudon for this term) 'deep play'.

Chrissie, to whom I have dedicated this poem, would usually be the one to deliver us our starting note; she'd clang her tuning fork purposefully down on her knee or - on the odd occasion when she forgot to bring it - would pop through to the next-door room to fetch a note from our old family piano. Chrissie, our much loved friend, passed away just before Christmas after a long and courageous battle with cancer; whenever we meet to sing, we hear her voice.

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  1. "and the flames in the grate

    waver"--just right. I wonder whether this is a hinge or the conclusion of the poem.

  2. Ah, lovely, loving evocation. I come on tiptoes to stand where Chrissie's been.

  3. I agree with Mim, about that point in the poem. Lovely.

  4. Exquisitely sparse, and reminiscent of 'The Thought Fox'.

    There's merit in Mim's comment.

  5. Dear Mim

    Thank you for raising this question. Helen and John, thank you for echoing it.

    I've been thinking. A different ending creates a different poem, which is in itself worthwhile and interesting. Closing with the word 'waver' leaves the 'new' poem with a shimmering question. I like that. I like the way the sound and company evaporate, dissipate...

    On the other hand, the lines that follow after 'waver' bring home the shift in tone that alludes to the transition Chrissie makes from present to absent (or from a physical to a metaphysical state), all of it occurring within the timeframe of those last lines.

    I am certainly going to give this some more thought and would appreciate any further comments you might like to make? Thank you.

  6. Dear Pen - you do come on tiptoes which is one of the reasons why everything is right again. Chrissie would approve wholeheartedly ; )

  7. Claire,

    I've been thinking about your comment re a different ending making a different poem, and I agree with you.

    Mim identified the hinge or transition in your poem: after "waver" the nebulous enters/takes over and we're in the realm of the spiritual, where Chrissie assumes another form. I'm reminded of these lines from Keats' Ode:

    Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
    Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

    You definitely need this transition. It's the fulcrum of your poem. But I wonder whether it could have stood alone without the annotative footnote, the details that are not in but are necessary to the poem. The hinge doesn't suffice, I feel.

  8. oh, this moves so simply....with short lines...leading to the inevitable connection of friendship, habit and 'deep play.'

  9. Dear John

    I appreciate your putting such thought into this... The odd thing is, I wrote A Cappella in 2002, seven years before Chrissie died and three years before the cancer made its presence known. At the time, I dedicated it to the group; the 'aural Aurora Nebula' referred then to the sound of music taking wing/finding 'ephemeral purchase' in the world beyond the window. I thought then that I was alluding simply to sound waves and the way, once released, they travel endlessly onwards, out into the universe.

    When I was considering poems to post for this week's Tuesday Poem, I came across A Capella again and was struck by the presence of Chrissie's absence, not only in my life, but in the 'post-waver' lines. I realized that (without knowing any of this at the time the poem appeared on the page), there was more in those lines that I could have imagined. I'm still puzzling over it now - hence my slow reply!

    When it was first published, this poem appeared 'as is' without references to either Chrissie or our singing group. By plucking it out of that more universal space and grounding it in the specifics of Chrissie's life and recent death, it cannot help but change the poem and raise a raft of different questions...

    Does my musing here effect the way you read it, I wonder?

    It's fascinating to me that there are times when our unconscious definitely goes out ahead of us. I think this happens a great deal when we dwell fully in writing and image-making processes. When we surrender ourselves to the creative process (which = the generative life force?) perhaps it's inevitable that we will find ourselves expressing certain things that are as yet unconscious and that can only be seen or understood retrospectively?

    These are big questions. Regardless of the form this poem finally takes, this discussion has been ever-so illuminating. I am grateful to you all for engaging in the conversation - you've helped peel back the layers.

    Heartfelt thanks to you all.


  10. Dear Melissa - how beautifully you have summed up the blessings of friendship... connection, habit (a luxury, to be sure) and 'deep play.'

    Thanks and love to you from across the seas,

  11. Claire,

    Wow! That changes everything. Amazing.

  12. Hi John - yes, this has been a bit of a journey for me. I thank you for your part in it.

    One thing leads to another... I will be following up with a post about the note B-flat soon.


  13. Claire, this is so gorgeous like a simple rustic meal eaten in the wild when one is very hungry. I've wanted to comment all week but I've been too busy. This reminds me of the Reverend Mothers (also called witches) of the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert's Dune. It brings these women to mind so powerfully that I have an ache now to read the 6 books again even though I've revisited them at least 20 times now (and again last year...I am a fierce re-reader) even though I have so many books stacked sideways on my shelves. Oh lord. Wonderful.


  14. ps. If you haven't read the Dune books (highly recommended but lots of pages) I will tell you that when one of the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers died, the other Mothers drank a concentrated cinnamon spice only produced on the planet Dune, and then the Mother who passed gave her memories to the Mothers still alive so these thousands of years of memories trickled down to all the Bene Gesserit witches and gave them great power.

    Ok. Maybe TMI. But your poem woke those women in me.


    wv: fishe!!!! The all women army of Dune were called the Fish Speakers.

  15. Wow, Rebecca - your comments choked me up (in the very best way)... esp. the part about the concentrated cinnamon spice that, when drunk, enabled all those thousands of years of memories to be absorbed by the waiting women. What a potent, archetypal image.

    I haven't read Dune yet - it's been on my list (there aren't enough/there are enough hours in a day for all the books I want to read!) but thank you for refreshing my intention.

    I'm not sure if this is an appropriate place for me to say this (oooh, what am I saying? 'Appropriate' is a word than makes me feel almost instantly rebellious!) but I had an amazing dream about women this week. A large company of them - some known to me, and some not - shared a plunge in my claw-footed bath. When we all got out, the 'ring' we left behind in the cast-iron tub was a double one and instead of being debris and dirt, it was alive with light and energy, like a planet's rings. We were all rather astounded and joyful at the sight and then we realized we weren't going to be able to clean it out of the bath with a sponge and warm water. Oh no! We had to go outside to get the garden hose - it took all of us to hold the hose with the water turned on full and an industrial-size spray nozzle to restore the bath to its former plain, white self! (This tale, vis a vie nothing and everything?! Your mention of fish and Mothers prompted me to tell this here.)

    Thank you for coming by - it's always a treat to see you've been. And, just so you know, Rebecca, I pop over to your blog pretty much every day but also haven't been leaving messages; life's been a gallop lately.

    Take care
    Claire xx