Pat Hanahoe-Dosch – Three Poems
What the Tide Brings:
Surf clams and quahogs, horse mussels and bay scallops,
channeled whelks, skate egg casings,
green and black strands of rockweed and kelp.
A laughing gull and a least tern waddle and skip
along the wrack line, stop to feast on a small skate,
washed up dead. A great black-backed gull circles above,
drops a clam onto the damp sand to break the shells
and expose the flesh.
A northern moon snail shell, empty between a cluster
of seaweed and a dead spider crab. Alive,
the snail can hug a clam with its one large foot,
then lick a hole through the shell and suck the meat
into its mouth. One of my parents’ neighbors
eats those snails, clams, mussels, scallops, whelks, crabs,
any succulent flesh encased in a shell
he can scavenge, fish, or trap.
The tide’s detritus, its cast-offs, the wrack line.
What the water and sand can’t hide, bury, or shape,
some creature will eat. What is left, the ocean
swallows, later: my footprints, yours,
sea-glass, shell fragments, bones and last wishes.
Wrack and ruin. Digestion,
the waves’ great purpose.
You and I. We dig a hole, searching for sand crabs.
We are attacked by sand fleas and green head flies.
For some reason, you laugh
when I slap at the insects.
For no reason, I swear
the ocean’s appetite is another kind of laughter.
Here are the feathers
to offer the wind, to mend
the rifts in the currents
your passing through will spread.
There are the cedars,
from your height, like green feathers,
swaying and rippling along
the rivers and ridges of the land’s skin
to guide you, your map
over a surface of fractures and scars.
Here is rain to weigh
you down again, to soak your fine pores
and breath, to bring you close again
to loam and mulch, knobby branch and crusty bark.
There is the cairn, a marker of stones
to clasp your tired limbs, your folding wings,
the moment you settle for the end, the weight
of gravity tethering you at last.
Here is the wind to lift you up again.
There is the tree whose leaves will wave you on.
These are all harbingers of grief,
shadows trees cast over stones.
Ode to a Rug
Red wool: colors of the Sonoran sun
setting across red sandstone. Green
wool at the edges: green of desert grass,
weeds growing in clumps between rocks.
Red of the desert: Arizona, Utah. Mojave
shadows scratching across a butte or ridge
cracked by fault lines, geometric shapes
cut into red rocks. Mesquite and jojoba,
tiny green along the trails circling
deepening shades of red. No birds.
No mallet chiseling human meaning.
Just Navajo dyes on wool. The gift
of warp and weft, a woman’s voice
still singing patterns in the fibers.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
To even begin to think about beauty, we have to establish a context for it: beauty in terms of what? And render it into concrete language we can relate to. For example, my breakfast of coffee and pumpkin bread on a chilly Autumn Sunday morning was, to me, a thing of beauty while I was hungry and depressed until I had consumed it all and was left with a slight stomachache, a plate of crumbs that needed to be washed, and a prickling of guilt for the calories I had just consumed. Beauty had vanished (along with a brief moment of happiness, alas).
In the classroom, I teach my writing students about abstract language and often use beauty as an example. I ask each student to tell me something that they think of when they think about that word. I make a joke that my standard of beauty is George Clooney. They laugh. I get the usual: rainbows, the ocean, a beach, trees, dolphins, Beyonce, and a variety of other celebrities. We talk about context and concrete language. What poems do they think are beautiful? They immediately say Shakepeare’s sonnets, Keats, Shelley, Yeats. (Actually they say things like, “The one about the Greek or Roman pot.”) They haven’t read much. I read them Kunitz’s poem, “The Wellfleet Whale.” It is my standard of beauty in poetry.
What is beauty in the context of my poetry? I still have no idea. I don’t think about it. I couldn’t write if I thought I had to compete with Stanley Kunitz, Yeats, or Shakespeare. I think about craft, form, sound, and truth. I want form and content to resonate together to add meaning, and for the poem’s sounds and rhythm to be pleasing to the ear when read out loud so it all resonates with the audience, reveals some kind of small truth well enough so they nod in agreement, recognition, or sudden understanding of something they hadn’t thought about. I want my poems to speak to my audience so they feel less alone, feel recognition of our shared, human experience. I’m sure I don’t do this as well as I want. Is all that beauty? Maybe to someone. I like to think that somehow I have created something beautiful for someone to experience in a way that is less fleeting and less fraught with guilt than, say, a slice of pumpkin bread glazed with vanilla and cinnamon icing beside a white, porcelain mug of steaming Kona coffee.
Pat Hanahoe-Dosch has an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Her poems have been published in Rattle, Aji Magazine, The Atticus Review, Confrontation, The Red River Review, San Pedro River Review, Red Ochre Lit, Nervous Breakdown, Quantum Poetry Magazine, The Paterson Literary Review, Abalone Moon, Switched-on Gutenberg, and Paterson: The Poets’ City (an anthology edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan), among others. Her first book, Fleeing Back, published by FutureCycle Press, is available through futurecyclepress.org or Amazon.com. Her second book of poems, The Wrack Line, will be available from FutureCycle Press sometime in 2017. More at: pathanahoedosch.blogspot.com.