By Nona Blyth Cloud
The word “Poetry” covers a lot of ground, everything from the brief illumination of a Japanese Haiku to a great Norse Saga passed down through the generations by repetition of the words in chant or song.
Back when I was still working for a living, if the day had gone reasonably well, and I left the office more or less on time, I’d be about halfway home when Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac would begin on NPR. Stuck in traffic, with the booming rap from a neighboring car making me turn up my radio and strain my ears to hear, Keillor’s clear deliberate voice could still cocoon me in the words. His readings were my introduction to some wonderful poems, and a rediscovery of many old favorites.
So when I thought about what I was going to write for my inaugural entry here, I remembered The Writer’s Almanac, and Garrison Keillor’s companion book Good Poems. In the book’s Introduction, Keillor says: “Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.”
If the name James Dickey rings a bell, it’s probably for his novel Deliverance, and you’re hearing “Dueling Banjos” in your head. However, James Dickey won the National Book Award in 1966 for his poetry. He was the 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and wrote notable criticism of modern poetry for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Book Review, and Poetry magazine.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author Wallace Stegner said James Dickey’s poems were “packed with primal energy” and concluded “What I am left with is an awed sense of the pure power of these words.”
THE HOSPITAL WINDOW
By James Dickey
I have just come down from my father.
Higher and higher he lies
Above me in a blue light
Shed by a tinted window.
I drop through six white floors
And then step out onto pavement.
Still feeling my father ascend,
I start to cross the firm street,
My shoulder blades shining with all
The glass the huge building can raise.
Now I must turn round and face it,
And know his one pane from the others.
Each window possesses the sun
As though it burned there on a wick.
I wave, like a man catching fire.
All the deep-dyed windowpanes flash,
And, behind them, all the white rooms
They turn to the color of Heaven.
Ceremoniously, gravely, and weakly,
Dozens of pale hands are waving
Back, from inside their flames.
Yet one pure pane among these
Is the bright, erased blankness of nothing.
I know that my father is there,
In the shape of his death still living.
The traffic increases around me
Like a madness called down on my head.
The horns blast at me like shotguns,
And drivers lean out, driven crazy—
But now my propped-up father
Lifts his arm out of stillness at last.
The light from the window strikes me
And I turn as blue as a soul,
As the moment when I was born.
I am not afraid for my father—
Look! He is grinning; he is not
Afraid for my life, either,
As the wild engines stand at my knees
Shredding their gears and roaring,
And I hold each car in its place
For miles, inciting its horn
To blow down the walls of the world
That the dying may float without fear
In the bold blue gaze of my father.
Slowly I move to the sidewalk
With my pin-tingling hand half dead
At the end of my bloodless arm.
I carry it off in amazement,
High, still higher, still waving,
My recognized face fully mortal,
Yet not; not at all, in the pale,
Drained, otherworldly, stricken,
Created hue of stained glass.
I have just come down from my father.
My mother told me that the first time I connected word with concept was an evening when I pointed my baby fist at a lamp and lisped: “ight.”
Light is still my goal.
Thank you for reading this first Word Cloud. I hope you’ll come back and visit again.
- The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992, by James Dickey
Wesleyan University Press, University Press of New England
- Babel to Byzantium: Poets & Poetry Now, by James Dickey
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Library of Congress catalog card number: 68-10644
- Good Poems, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor, Penguin Books, Published by the Penguin Group ISBN 978-0-14-200344-2 (pbk)
Word Cloud Photo by Larry Cloud