The Poet Crosses the Border Between Now and Then
. . . the artist needs time in which the raw material of experience may settle
to an imaginative depth, where it can be transformed into art. –Michael Longley*
It was his poet’s habit to take an evening walk across
the winter-weary landscape looking for any spark
in those ragged fields or low slung, sullen skies
to ignite an image or a thought worthy of a poem.
But the defeated weather slumped, uneasy in its
shabby coat of frost. The bedraggled landscape
feared any beauty might startle the evening
and disturb its last mundane moments of light.
Winter has a way of rubbing the imagination away.
As the cold, gray light collapsed into a scrub of oaks,
that ordinary, dying day was like so many others:
not worth a jot in his notebook or his memory.
But years later, a long-silent synapse arcs and he crosses
the border between now and then. He imagines he hears
that cold, gray light scream out, an angry shriek,
so clear, as if it learned, too late, it is dying fast.
Tangled in the landscape of memory, image and metaphor,
the poet is consumed by the desperate scream raging in
those darkening woods. As the last flicker of light dies,
he imagines the sorrow of that death into a poem.
*From Michael Longley’s 2017 PEN Pinter Award address, October 10, 2017 at the British Library
Doug Stone lives in Western Oregon. He has written three collections of poetry: The Season of Distress and Clarity, The Moon’s Soul Shimmering on the Water, and Sitting in Powell’s Watching Burnside Dissolve in Rain.