A while back a dear friend of mine started an email list to send out a poem once a week, using mostly contemporary poets and trying not to repeat any authors. It was a wonderful project that eventually fell by the wayside, but he’s given me his kind permission to take a swing at reviving it. I’ll be posting a poem on this blog once a week (rather than emailing them out); feel free to comment or email me with suggestions for future postings. I’ll be glad of the help, and I always like to expand my horizons.
For this first week, I’d like to reprise one of Corwin’s choices that has stayed with me for the past few years. If you’d like to browse through his other selections, you can find them here. Thank you, Corwin, for all the work you put into this, and for bringing all of us a little concrete language every week to recalibrate our lives. It’s an impressive selection of work; take an hour or so to wander around in there if you can.
Wiglaf the foot-warrior sat near the shoulder of the king, wearily sprinkling water on his face to wake him. He succeeded not at all. –Beowulf
It is the saddest part of a sad story:
a young man in an old man’s heavy shirt,
his helmet, arm-rings, all the gold gone dull
and gummed with blood. The gutted dragon lies
there twitching, and cowards–seasoned fighters–
are dragging themselves, shamefaced, from the woods.
Wiglaf’s own eyes saw his master’s body
caught up by waves of flame, saw long teeth tear
the great one’s throat. Through clots of smoke, he
found the weak spot, struck, and found out later
what is worse than dragons. Kings die slowly,
gasping words. Young Wiglaf loved his king
and carried water to him, in his hands.
This story is and isn’t old. My half-brother’s
sixth-month-born, three-pound daughter was alive
an hour last December, and in spring, he’s
saying this, “You haven’t seen her room, yet”
although he knows I have, the crib and stack
of folded blankets, silver brush and comb
his wife lifts up to dust beneath and then
puts back. Fat bears and grinning tigers dance
across the wall. Foot-warrior Wiglaf knew
the king was dead, and still he bathed his face
to wake him, sprinkling water, while the others
watched. We are standing in my brother’s yard,
where a single mimosa, bloom-decked, leans
in careful arabesque. He’s choking, weary,
on his loss, and I see how love, once started,
can become a thing apart from us,
a being all its own, unstoppable,
just watching as we waste our human gestures
on the air, and who can say if it’s
the monster or the hero of our lives?
–by Marisa De Los Santos
(from her book “From the Bones Out” and also published in “The New American Poets” Breadloaf anthology, edited by Michael Collier. Originally published in the Antioch Review)