Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Sabbath, by Mary Cresswell


not that the dead will visit – they are dead.
But while we living bathe in such mild air,
neither will I rinse them from my mind,
beloved bones dismantled into sand.
Rachel Hadas, “Shells”

I lay the table as I always did:
blue and white dishes, crystal glasses.
The linen cloth is new. Never mind,
when he comes, he will recognise
if not me, at least the meal I serve,
the candles, the wine, the braided bread.
The words come more slowly.
I am out of practice and unused
to visitors. Greeting them is hard –
not that the dead will visit – they are dead.

I display my dead on the mantelpiece
arrange them in rows like smoky quartz
picked up on mountain trails
or bivalves washed up on beaches.
Unlike the loud and living, they don’t answer back.
They stand mute and dusty. Always, the dead are
accommodating, part of rituals past
and rituals yet to come. Either way,
it’s OK to leave them there.
But while we living bathe in such mild air,

storms roll in from every compass point;
unrecognisable flotsam and jetsam
pile up in heaps. When high tide relaxes
we are left with an expanse of debris
otherwise known as thoughts.
The dead are more kind.
They rest outside our tumbling chaos
waiting for us to pick through them.
I pause my sorting, grubby and begrimed,
to swear I’ll never rinse them from my mind

so I decide it’s time to build
a place to hold us all, perhaps
a temple – a tumulus – a bower
to safely store the memories
I need to keep with me. Call it what
you like. The dead have all the words to hand.
I mine them all to pick through
and extract my dearest shards. Then I
use them to construct my promised land:
beloved bones dismantled into sand.

© Mary Cresswell

Mary Cresswell is a poet and science editor who lives on the Kapiti Coast. She was born in Los Angeles and moved to New Zealand in 1970. "Sabbath" is taken from her book, Fish Stories, published by Canterbury University Press.

I asked Mary if I could post the poem because I have fallen for a form called the glosa, of which it is a fine example. The glosa is based on a quatrain by another author. Each line of the glosa forms the last line of one of four ten line stanzas. In each stanza, lines six and nine rhyme with line ten.

Mary says:
The poem was written for a Los Angeles friend, a World War II refugee from France (a "displaced person" as they were called then) and later used at her memorial service. It's a twist on the usual Friday night sabbath meal, because it welcomes the sabbath as a bridegroom rather than a bride.

The Tuesday Poem community is a group of poets who each aim to post a poem on their blogs every Tuesday. For more Tuesday Poems, check out the main hub site.

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