[encore] 691: Final Poem for the "Field of Poetry"

[encore] 691:  Final Poem for the "Field of Poetry"

[encore] 691: Final Poem for the "Field of Poetry"

This episode was originally released on June 7, 2022.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I was sitting with a poet the other day and we were talking about how so much of what we love about writing poems is how they can surprise you, teach you something you don’t yet know. I’m sure there are people who start with an idea, a deep sense of knowing, a certainty, a truth, but mostly I start with questions. A wonder. A worry. With something that’s moving around in me making me uncomfortable or in pain. And then, if I’m lucky, if I’m paying attention, the poem will unravel on its own and make me aware of something that I might not have even been ready to explore.

This act of discovery is what keeps me coming back to the page. The way I might want to start writing about flowers, or trees, and end up writing a poem about a parent or a beloved friend that’s no longer alive. That’s what happens when you’re not just writing the poem, but you’re listening to the poem, too. That strange alchemy is hard to explain, hard to teach, and certainly hard to replicate, though we try again and again to capture that buzzing magic that can be addicting as an artist, as a human.

Today’s poem shows us how that process of discovery can illuminate the real subject matter, and how whether we like it or not, the poem tells us what is circling inside us and cannot be denied.

Final Poem for the “Field of Poetry”
by Phillip B. Williams

In the grip of a nor’easter,
you come bearing grief,
have in pieces not come
in peace. You arrive bladed
with certainty. You slam shut
the car door and smolder
before the locked cabin, rough
trip up the Hudson as you distracted
yourself with a list of flowers awaiting
deft penmanship to groom them
tight and blow them clean. 
News of your brother’s death
intercepted your drive to this
residency, fellowship
among the crude Madonnas
of empty mailboxes draped in robes
of days-old ice. You have not written
about the passing of family
before, their antagonistic absences.
Intrusive their teething
tombstones in the brain. Pill
after pill to sleep, to create,
to erase, you swallow and scratch
into a notepad what the frozen earth
refuses: bougainvillea, lilac, burning
bush. Another close kin added
to the Bible’s kept obituaries.
You hated your brother’s left
eye, unruly wanderer settling
away from you and observing
a world you could not sense. Glossy ivy
in all its tenure, the tender fingers
of buckeye. The white page
frozen before you like rime. You
dig and discover what you already knew:
decaying kin, meandering roots 
catching his beautiful ankles. You
were looking for a way out through
beauty but beauty only goes
where needed. On the pad you write: enough—
what you’ve had, how much
more of you there is, how
much of you will be left when you’re gone.

"Final Poem for the 'Field of Poetry'" by Phillip B. Williams, from MUTINY copyright © 2021 Phillip B. Williams. Used by permission of Penguin Random House.