~This poem was previously published in Beloit Poetry Journal (2012).
how quick the plummet : moon-sharp
the flint-sparked air : our river crackling
on the full extreme of the tide : how pristine
this burden : snow coiled like a widow’s shawl
about the shoulders of the world : how
numbly we face this whiteness : its weather-worn
scars : our fading trajectories : like scavenging
deer : and into it all this rodent-thought
creeps its way out of troubled sleep :
a crosshatch of tunnels : vascular runs
where hunger follows blindly on hunger :
gnaws every tender tendrilling : brutal
and indifferent : like beauty : like this night’s
shimmered desolations : like a body : blanketed
yet beneath : so nakedly vulnerable :
how inexorable these silent turnings : as one
from a window : back toward the darkened room :
and returning : the thought : of you : downed in sleep :
as the tide of a sudden snaps the solid mask of things ::
how quick the widdershins flesh tinders into flame.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
I began this poem in the subzero cold of December 2010. The house in which I live in Maine sits alongside the shallower reaches of a tidal river that freezes over in winter. With the ebb and flow of the tide, the ice sheets groan and crack and sometimes snap with booming intensity—loud enough to wake sleepers. Early drafts employed rather conventional syntax. It was only after I realized the connection between the cracking ice and the speaker’s fragmented emotions that I began to revise the poem into the shards of thought that you see here floating on either side of those disengaged colons. The occasion of the poem is that pivotal moment when the tide changes and the sun at its lowest ebb in the sky begins its ascent.
But how to connect the conflicted speaker to these astronomical turnings? Nearly forty years before, working at my first job after graduate school, for a dictionary company, I began the practice of recording on 3x5 cards the definitions and etymologies of weirdly exotic words I encountered. One of those was widdershins, which means “in a direction contrary to the apparent course of the sun.” (It’s my belief that any word in a standard college dictionary is fair game in a poem.) When that word popped back into my consciousness and I’d blown the dust off of it, I knew it could capture precisely and uniquely the speaker’s realization that his body’s “fading trajectories” can yet accommodate renewal and an embracing of light.
ABOUT RICHARD FOERSTER
Richard Foerster is the author of six poetry collections. His most recent is Penetralia (Texas Review Press, 2011), which was awarded a Maine Literary Award. He has been the recipient of numerous other honors, including the “Discovery”/The Nation Award, Poetry magazine’s Bess Hokin Prize, a Maine Arts Commission Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and two National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowships. Since the 1970s his work has appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Boulevard, The Southern Review, and Poetry. He has worked as a lexicographer, educational writer, typesetter, teacher, and as the editor of the literary magazines Chelsea and Chautauqua Literary Journal. Since 1986 he has lived on the coast of Southern Maine.