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Poet Laureate Poem Prompt—Fall 2023–Arianne True
Arianne True’s poem “Seattle Sonata (legato, every note legato)” speaks to a sense of place, not in nature, but in the city. It is a poem of longing, of desire to hang onto what is changing. We hope this lengthy composition will give you plenty of time to find commong ground and to sink into the author’s frame of mind. Poets, can you find music in the place you cannot return to that you once called home?
Photo Credit: Teresa Morrison
Seattle Sonata (legato, every note legato)
I – razbliuto
It’s hard to be in love with
someone who can change so much.
My city left me behind chasing
a seat at the table when
our table was already set,
overflowing with possibility
and art and people who can’t afford
to live here anymore. I live an hour
away now and don’t know how to feel when
I see her. Something like longing. Something
like disappointment. Something I worry is
like a word I learned once at her side,
the Russian word that names the feeling
you have for someone you once loved
but no longer do. I worry that’s true.
II – in Russian
There’s no such word in Russian. You can say,
“I once loved you but no longer,” but there’s
no shorthand for it. No sum up. Despite being
in the books of so many experts, so many linguists —
no such feeling in its source language. Best guess:
a typo in a 60s tv show. Replicated somehow to now.
A not-Russian word that only exists in English.
III – object permanence
I feel home, though, in some of the same places.
Pioneer Square and the Seattle Center, bookends
of a past continually overwritten and a future imagined once,
two half-truths preserved in architecture. These buildings at least
feel real to me, like they’ll still be there when I turn around.
It’s hard to feel steady when you’re surrounded by disappearances,
a constantly changing view. How much was ever really there?
I trust the old bricks and concrete most in this city.
[Still not more than the trees that grow up the ravines.]
IV – no what
it’s hard to tell someone you left
everything they would’ve needed to change
for you to keep wanting them.
you shouldn’t try. living things change,
it is just hard to love living things
(harder not to) the city is a living thing,
you know. like I am a living thing to
the microscopic creatures that populate
my body who make it somewhere
I can live too. no me without them.
no city without who? hard to say
for a city bleeding out. what are you losing?
when will you notice? and what
will you do then?
V – somehow it’s not happening here but
Sometimes I have to speak so plainly that my voice gets lost in the words.
It’s to be understood when you’re swimming against misconceptions.
It still only works when someone will listen. Is willing to hear.
VI – why here
My writing exists because this is home. Me born to another city
is another artist, who knows her medium? Something about this
place keeps breathing me words. Maybe it’s the dense undergrowth,
so many places for a whisper to catch and hide, to wait for you.
So easy to move slow here, easy to spend an hour on the bus
or twenty minutes walking. Cars dull my senses, speed me up
to where I can’t catch the details anymore. I write more when
I am slow in the world, and this home made that so easy
for so long. It’s harder to get here now, but when I can
the whispers are still waiting, falling with the pine needles
or pushing up with irises, caught in the air of a bumblebee’s
fuzz as they sleep in a rosebud. Other places have flowers,
but these ones know my name.
VII – whole-body ear
I wear thinner shoes now
and can feel the streetcar
fifty feet away, every move
and stop spreads sensation
across the soles of my feet.
This place always teaching
me new ways to listen.
VIII – what about the other colors
Thick pigeons flock and split
like a grey kaleidoscope no one is turning
in the one hour we have of snow.
So many land together three stories up,
a whole crenellation of plump birds.
The rest must’ve gone west somewhere,
maybe past the clock tower,
I can’t see them now.
IX – cadence
I think what I want is for hometown to mean something.
Something tangible, more than longing or nostalgia,
to mean something with a body. Some kind of right
to live in your home. Some new knowing (not new
to me) that these streets were parents for some of us.
Some of us were raised by buildings and bus routes
and empty auditorium stages, by old old trees,
by blackberries and sticky rhododendron blooms and
the salmon that come home every year to become
the stream again. Some of us were raised by
pavement and school fields and drainage ditches.
By strangers and being a stranger show after show.
By the water that runs over all of them. (us.) None
of these are just images. This is not a poem, it’s
a map. This is not a poem, it’s a lineage. I am
telling you my family. I am telling you my home.
I am telling you one of the saddest things I know,
that none of that is allowed to matter more than
money in the city that’s been built here. Maybe
what I miss is like parents before you find out they
are only human too. I am not surprised by the
changes here anymore. But I am surprised
by the things no one notices. I live in shock that
we have no right to our home.
This poem was commissioned and published by the Front Porch – Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Reprinted with permission from the author.