Monday, August 31, 2020

Sealey Challenge, Day 31

What a month, what a challenge, and what a joy: to read a book of poems a day in August. Here they are! A big thank you to poet Nicole Sealey, who dreamed up this challenge to make sure people made time to read poetry! I'm glad to have made the time, and it was fascinating to see the connections I felt to the poems and poets, and the connections between the poems in the books. 

Today I met again fire, tornado, television, and elegy in Fimbul-Winter, by Debra Allbery (Four Way Books, 2020). Holy moly, do I know how to pick them or what? I put this one on the pile back in the super-hot days, thinking winter images might give me a little relief from the heat. But the weather changed, and it's gorgeous. And now I realized I've ended with Fimbul-Winter, aka Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology, "the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world and puts an end to all life on Earth." Just what we need.*

This was a cold book. It wasn't always winter in the book, but it always felt cold--and mysterious and haunted. "Chronic Town" describes "that icebound city" where:

     In the library, the homeless slept upright
     at long tables, gripping their open books."

Of course, I watched some short training videos at work today on the homeless in the library. I worry about them this winter, if libraries have to close again, or have severely limited hours due to Covid. A Fimbulvetr, indeed.

The post office is under siege but there are still letters in Allbery's poems! Letters to a lost love. "This morning / I drove twelve miles just to mail a letter." And "Sometimes I still address / envelopes to you, I even stamp them, / stand them empty, weightless on my desk." Well, that's a lonely image. It's in the poem "Constellation" (which is a letter, opening, "Dear C--"), where I learned more about Orion:

     I know that Orion means foot-turning wanderer.
     That Rigel, the brilliant star marking his left foot,
     is actually two stars revolving around each other.

I'm going to stand looking up at the sky tonight, for sure.

In "Firelands," I learned again about the mine fire, still burning, that wrecked an Ohio town and met up with two random coincidii: 1) I also have Ohio family connections and 2) I also propped up my window today with a stick of wood, similar to this:

                                                       In summer,
     propping up my bedroom window with a scrap
     of plywood, the heft and heavy rattle of warped glass.

My window is still propped open now, with crickets calling me out to see Rigel

In "After Vermeer," the husband is up on the roof clearing out the gutters in the rain, in a dream, just like my husband, in waking life. And while I read this afternoon, the neighbor girl came out again, wildly singing in the breeze. It's September tomorrow and September in the poem "The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling," but it's still cold.

     The sun could never find its way
     to our windows; the walls were thick
     as a bunker's, stolid, stone and stone
     and stone.

A bunker is a good place to wait out the end of the world, right? This is the September of 9/11, and she's home in their stone cottage with a sick baby:

     That September morning's iris of sky just as fierce,
     stripped and raw, too close; I shielded the baby
     with my shadow. Then the quiet was tipped
     by the ratchet of a kingfisher plummeting
     from the power lines into the dark mirror
     of our pond.

This baby brings some welcome joy into her life and this book. "Where is our laugh?" he asks. "Where does it live inside us?" And so do "[t]umbleweeds...wild as untethered joy..." But this Fimbul-Winter feels cold throughout, even the fire moments, even the feverish moments, cleaving to its title and theme. I was astonished by the clarity, and a circling back, of this set of lines in Part 4, Death in the Woods, of "In the Pines":

                                          The point

     of the story is to keep her cold mystery,
     keep that circle drawn around her

     higher and higher, a glass wall, keep everyone
     from getting any closer.

*Also, I should maybe now watch Thor: Ragnorok, which is also about this, and to make it a Thor's Day on a Blue Monday, and, of course, a Poetry Someday and the recurring Random Coinciday in the blog. (Wait, does that movie poster say November 3?!** Aauughh!) Tomorrow I resume a previous project: chalkboard poems! The plan is a short poem a day on the green easel chalkboard beside my front stoop, poems posted at Facebook and Instagram, and I'll probably tell you about them sometimes here, too!

**This movie is already out--came out in 2017, like several of the books I read!--but November 3 is looming as the end of the world, alas. Please, please vote, America, and save us all.

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