1124: What Good Is A Castle by Linda Susan Jackson

20240523 Slowdown

1124: What Good Is A Castle by Linda Susan Jackson


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Those signs are back; a favorite restaurant near campus suddenly closed. My network news show has a new host; my local bagel shop removed the best breakfast sandwich this side of cream cheese from its menu board. These are reminders that nothing is permanent. Is anything sacred? Of course not. The only constant in life is change.

A recent debate about the sanctity of the sonnet (fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhyme, volta, and an ending couplet) reminded me something: how much I love my routines. I like to sit in the pocket of predictability and sometimes… abhor variation. I am among those whose teenage years were disrupted by sudden and dramatic changes in the home. My daily habits were upended.

The instability of my homelife conditioned the pleasures I find in poems whose form and shape are the same; such poems sponsor my sense of safety. The pursuit of regularity ever since, in life and art, has been existential — so too, for those who argued for the strictness of a sonnet. People need their containers.

But time is relentless and unforgiving. Even the sonnet is subject to change, some poets abandoning all of its strictures, putting an American sensibility of resistance on it. If the sonnet were a person who looked into a mirror, it would not recognize itself after eight centuries.

Today’s poem acknowledges the force of time, how it burnishes, such that we are no longer recognizable even to ourselves. Yet, we are palimpsests of beings, for which even the new cannot fully erase.

What Good Is a Castle
by Linda Susan Jackson

                                                                                                               — after Joe Bataan

In the mirror, I’m no longer there,
But the someone who is looks at me

As though surprised that I show up 
Every morning. What else is there to do?

I’ve become my own curio, a daily novelty,
Trying to work magic with foundation,

Blush brush and lipstick which yields no
Promise, so when the image turns away,

It takes apart my voice. No matter.
No one ever listens when I speak.

Stunned by the ticking clock, I stare back
In the mirror. All the markers are gone.

I am what was both bounty and beauty,
Added value to the trinity for young skin:

Possession, performance, profit!
There’s no running from it. Once

My beauty could choke the scarlet
Off a rose, almost predict the edge

Of the world, make music out of what happened
Although everything changes with the playing,

Worrying the line to dust. I’m in time’s geography,
So what’s left of its shifting melody, a breath, a note,

A glance, a new ache? Outside, everything
smells of week-old grease, even the clouds.

“What Good is a Castle” by Linda Susan Jackson from TRUTH BE TOLD © 2024 Linda Susan Jackson. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.