Terry Blackhawk – Two Poems
Weary of the daily terror I turn
to the mystic body of the bird. A woodcock
I found crackling the twigs and ivy,
barely escaped from a cat’s clumsy claws.
I feared for the odd angle of its wing,
the surprised flopping it made there,
but I did not fear the extreme length
of its beak or the eyes popping diametrically
on either side of its head. I loved the feathers’
deckled edges and the light weight it made
as I scooped it up and put it, limpsy and weak,
into an old canvas book bag, and when I
released it from that soft safe space
some time later, out on the island, I missed it
at once, as one would miss a friend.
It whirred straight up, explosively,
toward freedom on the other side of the river,
its pulse now gone from my hands.
Handmedown quilt bags cloth/
pieces of garments broadcloth and
gingham or mudcloth indigo
all see-through cloth/stories we wear against
our cloth/bodies/cloth you collect from us
did you wear this: how
did you go
Tonight: fireflies likely — or lucky — to die
soon after first night in summer
Who was I when I wore this jacket
If I give it to you, what
will you find in the seams:
sweat, chalk dust, funk,
streets I chased down, ones I loved
I did not remember dreaming my granddaughter
in a field of flowers
((Rainforest fireflies cast a longer light: solid
time-lapsed streams of them))
but like a firefly that blinks once
then reappears on the other side of another
tree, you gave me back the dream in purples
and yellows: a holiday of color and light
cloth and thread
I have outgrown the jacket, my body slowing
Take its strips or scraps, let them
pulse on/off/on/off, use and
reuse them, gently, the way you stroked the edges
of this quilt you hung for me
giving the fraying fringe
your farewell touch your static pull
Author’s Statement on Beauty
My friend helps me hang the art quilt I have purchased from her, its color and design inspired, I learn, from a story I told her. I write a poem about the quilt and the story, which I had forgotten telling her, and include fireflies, from a story she has shared with me. We are connected in and by the poem, the stories, the gifts of fabric, the cloth of friendship, of belonging. Her delicate fingertips, brushing the fringed edges of the quilt as if saying goodbye, is a memory—a beauty—I will always treasure.
Friendship. Memory. Story. Music also creates beauty for me. I listen to Leonard Cohen on a rainy afternoon, attend a concert, or settle in to hear live jazz in a favorite venue and I am in a trance, moved by something other than myself into some place other than where I am. A jostle in my everyday consciousness and I find myself on the path of a new poem—another kind of beauty, a boundary crossing into the there that isn’t there, into the trance and timelessness of creating something that has never been before.
I find another kind of trance in nature. I have spent hours bird-watching in woods or marshes, captivated by the beauty of birds. Other times I have held a living bird in my hand, rescuing passerines that careened into the glass walls of my townhouse in downtown Detroit, its Mies van der Rohe design a thing of renowned architectural beauty. There I have cupped and collected stunned warblers and thrushes from off the ground and felt the beauty of their beating hearts.
I need beauty in my surroundings. I crave art, and spaciousness. I need light and windows and the play of sun and wind on leaves to feel that my spirit is alive. I need to be close to visual art. The works I own are living presences that provide companionship to my days. When I visit favorite paintings in museums, I let go and find myself both in and not in the painting, living a double life from which I walk away refreshed. It reminds me of what the eighth century Chinese poet Li Po wrote to his friend Tu Fu: “Thank you for letting me read your new poems. It was like being alive twice.”
The spell of beauty, this doubleness, tiptoes around definition, but to quote Emily Dickinson, “The Definition of Beauty is/That Definition is none.” Friendship, art, nature live in the moment, the concrete, and these are my beauties, regardless of words I may attach to them.
Terry Blackhawk, Founder and Executive Director Emerita of InsideOut Literary Arts Project (iO), is the author of Escape Artist, winner of the John Ciardi Prize, The Light Between, and five other books of poetry. She is co-editor with Peter Markus of To Light a Fire: Twenty Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, a collection of essays by iO poets-in-residence. She was twice named Michigan Creative Writing Teacher of the Year and received the Michigan Governors’ Award for Arts Education. Blackhawk received the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize from Nimrod International and is a Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellow. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and on line at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily and elsewhere. Her most recent book is The Whisk & Whir of Wings, a chapbook of collected poems about birds. More at: terrymblackhawk.com.
The poems in this selection arise from an ongoing, year-long project using sections from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” as a weekly trigger or inspiration. The italicized words in “Quilt: Firefly” are from “Song of Myself: section vii.””The Woodcock” was inspired by section x.