Errata Literary Magazine
Bucks County Writers Workshop
edited by Kurt Krumpholz
I remember the commingled scent of cinderblocks and pencil shavings, pink rubber erasers, freshly polished wood and something faintly musty like the smell of balled-up sweat socks tossed into a corner. I was about six, sitting cross-legged on the auditorium stage in a small semi-circle of other first-graders gathered around our principal, a large and genial white-haired old soul who would die before I graduated from middle school. We sat, for the most part, quietly, fidgeting only when absolutely necessary, so as not to miss a word from the lines of poetry Mr. Herr read aloud. I could tell he greatly enjoyed the poems, for he read them with great command and subtle emphasis. In particular I remember the opening lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay's The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.
Son, said my mother,
When I was knee high,
You've need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.
We sat silent and awestruck. His enthusiasm for the words rippled through us like a gentle current of electricity. And although some of the sense of the poem was lost to us, we were enchanted and astonished all the same. The tone and rhythm of the words had caught us in their trance.
For some reason, this poem inspires in me a similar sense of brooding lament that The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver does.
THE WOMAN IN LOVE WITH SLEEP
There once was a woman in love with sleep,
And this was her song:
I pay to see my darling
With a tablet amazingly small.
Smaller than the Widow's Mite,
Smaller than a hole punched from paper,
Smaller, even, than
A drop of my blood.
And then, and then, it's down, down deep
In the sweet, dark arms of sleep,
Where the soft, ferny weeds
Sway their slow, silent dance,
And the light loses its way,
In dreams I breathe the dark water
And do not drown.
Lovely to be
One of the swaying weeds,
A willowy stem,
In the deep Sargasso Sea,
Dim light slanting down, dimmer and dimmer,
Slight movement, like a sleeper's breath,
Where no one can find me,
Not even myself.
This poem-epiphany turns on a perennial theme for poets.
For a couple of days I'd not seen
the old fan-tailed koi; a speckled cantaloupe
with gossamer fins, quite hard to miss
among the chaos of squirming iris roots
and muddy water. Yet such is the nature
of fish, I've learned: nosing lifeless against
the current one moment, abruptly thrashing
for cover the next. Still, after two days of
absence I began to worry and knelt down
beneath the milky August sky to sweep
aside the blackening leaves, finding only
my reflection, on the pond's mirrored surface.
Trembling with urgency I half submerged
my arm and poked around the fountain to make
certain he wasn't hung up there, somewhere
underneath. Then sitting back on my heels
I wiped my brow, and listened to my breath,
while the buzzing cadence of a lone cicada
roosting in the sweetgum cut through the still
and heavy air. Again I leaned into
the brick pond and with two hands this time lifted
the filter box from the clammy bottom,
raising a churning funnel cloud of silt
behind it. Waiting for the water to clear
I felt a queasy buoyancy surged up
in me like a bubble of rising hope
before the unexpected silver flash
of death once more made my heart leap. Pushing
belly up from the murky depths it turned
and slipped away atop the plashing water
The simultaneous ambiguity of the relationship and warmth of closeness is what seems to drive this poem to its satisfying end.
1He will not kiss me on the lips
Nor gently touch my cheeks
And stroke my brow.
My eyes will not open
Like a flower in the sun
His lips will only say,
"Be thou mine,
I have loved thee
Since the dawn of time."
From where the warmth?
2From deep inside
The center of my being
Held by a string,
For I shall die
But not the strings
That made me,
The length and speed
Of an electron, a quark,
A universe of leptons,
Eons of love.
I shall be a particle
That was, and will be,
One of billions of humans
Made by Him
Who holds the patterns
In the palm of his hand.
3He, coursing at
The speed of light,
Faster than a credit card
Radiant like the sun
With the moon and stars
Beneath her feet,
Deep down a
Cloaca of the universe,
A point of dense and
Dark, black ice
Doom and doubt
Worry and care
Dread and fear.
4And what if I have kissed
Strange faces, others' eyes?
Pressed my lips upon alien lips
Lived not Godlike but like
A faithless wretch, who brought
Gloom and torment to the
Rightful heir, when I adored
The Queen of the Night,
What hope for me?
What mystery forgiveness when the energy of evil done
Is far greater than the energy of love?
Goodness is a swift and facile thing.
5How strange He will eschew
To kiss me on the lips
To stroke my brow
To press his tender mouth
Upon my faithless lips,
But will rebuild me
From the inside out
Like the sun
Warms the earth,
In the nuclear furnace At its center.
He has no need of lips
Or my faithless tongue.
Since I had given away
My cheeks, my lips,
My eyes, my tongue,
My mouth from stem to stern,
He will work with that which
I have not soiled,
A string, a photon
Of his reflected glory.
6I have a theory:
Save just one string
For love of Him
So He can work
The wonder of
Act of Love
You and me.
That will do.
The fabric of our memory is woven from the continuous thread of generations past and those yet to come, as this poem reminds us.
You think I don't know, but I always remember
The cool generation; I, too, was a member
I've walked in your sandals and raged at the rules
And my parents also were dimwitted fools
All the fine gifts from your friends seem to shine
But where do they lead at the end of the line?
Like so many toxins kept under the sink
With a child safety lock so no poisons you'd drink
Still counting the hairs on your head while you sleep
And hearing your breathing so even and deep
It's good when you're home and world is outside
And just for a moment you get off the ride
You think I'm a roadblock, an old washed out bridge
A barrier stuck at the top of a ridge
You think I don't know but I always remember
The cool generation; I, too, was a member.
Issue No. 2
Issue No. 1