Charlotte Innes – Two Poems
A kestrel plunges from the sky,
whirling up a cloud of starlings
from a willow. They flare and pulse
in loose formation like a mass
of thoughts that aren’t quite making sense,
till rain drives off the kestrel, and the starlings
dip and settle. I go inside,
marveling at the birds’ communal
choreography, the way
they cleverly deflect invaders.
Our friends arrive with wine. We eat
grilled burgers with fresh bread and fruit.
Someone says that it’s essential,
in the face of modern irony,
for art to illustrate compassion—
that people need to see at least
the possibility of peace.
In the light of two red candles,
my friends’ faces glow and soften.
My dear friends. Here is peace
for just a moment. As night comes on,
we lie out on the deck and scan
the stars. A bat flits quickly round
the house, and then—no sound.
Chilled, we go inside for coffee,
and for more comfortable talk
on everything possessing us.
Death of a Carob
What the—? What’s this small, white plaster bust
of Beethoven doing on the stump?
Is someone trying to tell me that my tree,
my lovely carob, cut down yesterday,
lives, in the mind’s ever-shifting music?
It’s like those times my building slides a little—
a fault slippage—when doors refuse to close,
as if to say, watch out, what’s real isn’t.
I loved that tree. My tree, I say. Although
it stood across the street, city-owned,
that carob is in me, its swaying shadows,
defined by radiant light and hazy air,
and all the tangible intangibles
that make this place, this street, my home, where
non-native like the carob, I’m growing old.
Its massive limb fell first in last week’s rain.
And then—bzzzz! The city men cut down
my dear old friend in less than half a day.
Diseased, the tree men said. And I’d seen it.
Cried at the white excrescence on the trunk.
And now? I’m laughing at this silly bust
that sits a mere ten minutes till a man
in knee-length shorts emerges from a bright red
shining car. He picks it up and pauses,
to gaze… adoringly? and then drives off—
the bust beside him—roaring up the street.
Did someone pull a string, flip joy my way?
Here comes another guy, dressed all in black,
who jumps upon the stump, and then, with arms
outstretched, performs a lovely arabesque.
Inside, my cat is rolling on the rug.
Queen Lizzie of the living room, she rubs
against my leaning head. Dante, my shining
green-eyed black one, is staring at me with—
the purest sense of being. God knows where.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty and poetry. Just putting those two words together takes me immediately to B.H. Fairchild’s poem “Beauty,” in which, for a little over seven pages, he attempts to explore what is beautiful and what is not, first in Florence, which he’s visiting with his wife, and then back in time to his father’s machine shop in Kansas. Flickering through the poem is a kind of transformative light, often quite literally light, at different times of day, shining on every place he describes, “as so many moments forgotten but later remembered / come back to us in slants and pools and uprisings of light.” It’s a felt light, an uprising of the spirit in the face of something that seems, often quite impossibly, beautiful. This is a poem I go back to again and again, as I do with many other Fairchild poems, a kind of touchstone for the way poetry can translate or heighten or bring forth the beauty of ordinary things. It’s what I want to do in my own writing, to find the right language, a beautiful language, to say what I want to say. For me that often means sitting still, not doing anything in particular, just trying to be aware of what’s around me, to sense what it is that’s urgently, often incoherently at first, pushing to emerge from a tangle of thoughts. Living in Southern California, I find it’s often the radiant light of the place that creates a strange sensation in me that I’ve come to equate with the making of a poem. (Perhaps that’s partly why I connect so much with Fairchild’s poem.) Excitement, hope, a sense of possibility, almost a kind of love allows me to set pen to paper, and then to go to my laptop. Putting my words in order ignites a sense of harmony, even when the topic is dark, or the language disjunctive to reflect the darkness. I think that’s why so many people turn to the natural world to find beauty, or to express what’s beautiful (I know I do, quite often) because of the inherent harmony of the seasons, the cycles of the moon, the unmoving mountain, or the quiet rustling of leaves. Beautiful scenes might not offer any answers to the more disturbing aspects of daily life, but they are there, beautifully there. And yet, the kind of beauty I find the most moving often takes me by surprise, unexpected goodness, acts of kindness, people giving more than they have to, or attempting to understand one another, an inner beauty that, despite the horrors of the world, is also there, beautifully there.
Charlotte Innes is the author of Descanso Drive, a first book of poems to be published in 2017. She has also published two chapbooks, Licking the Serpent (2011) and Reading Ruskin in Los Angeles (2009), both with Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including The Hudson Review, Rattle and The Sewanee Review, and anthologized in Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (Beyond Baroque Books, 2015), The Best of the Raintown Review (Barefoot Muse Press, 2015), and The Best American Spiritual Writing for 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), amongst others. She teaches English and creative writing at the Lycée International de Los Angeles.