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The Auroras

April 24, 2012

When I saw a new volume of poetry by David St. John, The Auroras, on the list for advance copies from Harper Collins, I checked the little box that says “yes, please.” Since Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit has already done a good job of considering the volume as a whole, with its three-part structure and weighing of desire with fulfillment, I’m going to discuss my two favorite poems from this volume, one from the first section, and one from the last.  Here is the first one:
The Aurora of the New Mind

There had been rain throughout the province
Cypress & umbrella pines in a palsy of swirling mists
Bent against the onshore whipping winds

I had been so looking forward to your silence
What a pity it never arrived

The uniforms of arrogance had been delivered only
That morning to the new ambassador & his stable of lovers
The epaulettes alone would have made a lesser man weep

But I know my place & I know my business
& I know my own mind so it never occurred to me

To listen as you recited that litany of automatic miseries
Familiar to all victims of class warfare & loveless circumstance
By which I mean of course you & your kind

But I know my place & I know my business & baby
I know my own grieving summer mind

Still I look a lot like Scott Fitzgerald tonight with my tall
Tumbler of meander & bourbon & mint just clacking my ice
To the noise of the streetcar ratcheting up some surprise

I had been so looking forward to your silence
& what a pity it never arrived

Now those alpha waves of desire light up the horizon
Just the way my thoughts all blew wild-empty as you stood
In the doorway to leave      in the doorway to leave

Yet I know my place & and I know my business & I know those
Melodies melodies & the music of my own mind

The words in italics remind me of the words Elizabeth Bishop puts in italics at the end of her villanelle “One Art”—they belie the main thought, show the hesitance behind the bold, ongoing statements. Yes, it hits this speaker in the gut to see her standing “in the doorway to leave” but he is going to go on, declaring that he knows his business and his own mind and he will not change, not even for how much he will miss the “melodies” she is taking with her.

What can a person do with such pride, except repeat himself and grimly put on his “uniform of arrogance”?

My other favorite comes seventh in the final section, titled Auroras:

Ghost Aurora

All of the apostles, the fortune-tellers, all of those committed
to the origins of reason or faith—each is now lost in the hum

of her or his own deepening meditation. What could be the purpose
of those songs the troubadour from Avignon brought us in his leather bag?

What could be the meaning of the carvings of green falcons along
the gourd-like back of his lute? What could be more useful than a loving

principle lifted slowly out of particles, like the frond of a morning fern
uncurling? Take up your coat; take up the morning. This is what it means

to lure to phantom out of the dark, until she lifts us into the space of
song.

I think what I like most about this poem is the hopefulness of believing that there is a purpose for those songs, that there is meaning, that a principle can be useful. And that when you “take up your coat” you are taking up the morning, and you can carry it all day on your back and add your own meaning to what it will become.

What is so lovely about the poems in this volume is that they are hopeful without naming the hope so specifically that it becomes a cliché. These poems are like hope itself, hovering around the desire but never quite settling, never coalescing into anything that can be grasped.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2012 7:08 am

    I really enjoyed this collection as well, and I’m glad to see that you liked it as well. The first poem you mention is one of my favorites as well.

    • April 24, 2012 7:10 am

      Also, thanks for mentioning my review. I have a copy to giveaway as well…for those interested. I also added your link to the blog tour linky.

    • April 24, 2012 8:21 am

      I like that you quoted what I think of as the refrain–the repeated part about “looking forward to your silence.”

  2. April 24, 2012 2:20 pm

    Lovely! I appreciate your mention of hope.

    I like the line “Tumbler of meander & bourbon & mint just clacking my ice” and how meander is one of the ingredients..

    • April 25, 2012 3:34 pm

      Yes. That’s the point, in fact, where I marked the page as one to which I would want to return.

  3. April 26, 2012 1:08 am

    These are beautiful.

    In “Ghost Aurora” the speaker seems to allude to how we can grow and become better by letting go of the “reason or faith” that keep us turned inward. “What could be more useful than a loving principle lifted slowly out of particles, like the frond of a morning fern uncurling?”

    As I grow older, It seems that while the body and mind may be faltering, I still feel more open to the world, and people around me. Do we all mellow as we age, or is the point that we have to make the decision to let go?

    • April 26, 2012 7:17 am

      Good questions. My inclination is toward the point that we have to make the decision to let go. There are plenty of closed-off old people in the world waiting to yell “get off my lawn” rather than “watch my fern uncurl with me!”

  4. April 27, 2012 3:07 pm

    I know I’m not interpreting or using it correctly in the context of the poem but the lines “I had been so looking forward to your silence/ What a pity it never arrived” resonated with me … in relation to my son who never stops talking!!

    • April 30, 2012 7:34 am

      You’re allowed to take away lines you like and apply them to your own situations. I think that means they’re good lines.

  5. parrish lantern permalink
    April 27, 2012 5:45 pm

    This appeals, thanks for sharing

    Autumn Marriage – A. Alvarez.

    WIFE: The year is moving out and I turn
    To noise and colour……

    HUSBAND: Fictions
    Here at home
    Marriage breeds silence round us and
    between.

    WIFE: There’s something else I need, something
    you lack
    To split my fabric open to the heart.

    HUSBAND: ‘They have it very oft that have it not.’

    WIFE: Domestic weather,violent and void
    Clouds us from the kitchen to the bed.

    HUSBAND: Who would dreamed the sky
    could turn so black?

    WIFE: This summer sickens, this harvest
    calm
    Without fruition strips me to the bone.
    My heart curls like a leaf, my sap is
    down.

    HUSBAND: Then wait for the colder season, glassy
    dawns,
    Frost shapes on the window, rime on
    the lawns,
    The birds piping chill from the gun-
    blue stones.
    Then, despite blankets, hot-water
    bottle, stove,
    The heart contracts its kingdom and
    you’ll move
    Back toward me for warmth……….

    WIFE: if not for love.

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