Poetry for the Moment

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Last Friday, five poets gathered at the Chesham Church, the place of the art show, the place where the jazz concert would be held the following night. The church, which slumbers through the winter, had been the center of activity for the past week while the congregation held a work party to clean it inside and out for the upcoming season, while the artist and I carried paintings through the big double doors and hung them on the pressed tin walls. Six flower arrangements, composed of the forsythia, tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth that were brightening my gardens, brought color to the gray and white interior.

I had put out the call for poets and these five had answered, one of them bringing her younger brother, a senior at the Mass Maritime Academy who, she said, was a three-time poetry slam champion.

Another one, whose poetry I did not know but whose cooking I did, came with not only poems but cookies to share. She told me she had written a poem every day in the month of April, the last of them the day before.

I brought with me poems I had written in anticipation of this event. It had been so long since I had written poetry, April had flown by with rhythm in my head. Rhythm and music were already in the air at the church as the paintings that now hung on the walls were of saxophonists and trumpeters, Miles and Dizzy, scribbles of all the old greats whose music we still love. Their portraits lined the walls in mute testimony.

Some people say that poetry should always be read out loud, never silently on the page. I agree. It is a little like music that way.

One after the other, the poets carried their verses to the pulpit and, as the warm, gentle evening air moved into the winter-cold church, they gave us their words. A small but appreciative audience sat in the old pews.

Peter read about his journey across the country with his wife, a trip they enjoyed so much they made it not just once, but twice, resulting in a long narrative poem that includes humor and irony. Nori read two long, poignant poems about her father and one about macaroni and cheese.

Amanda and her brother brought youth and beauty to the fore, each of them giving more performance than poetry, the muscular young man who is to become a Merchant Marine almost dancing as he put together an amazing string of rhyming words that flowed from his mouth like song. This is the new poetry, closely allied to the popular form called Rap. This audience in the little rural church delighted in being treated to something so exotic, so outside its reality, as the evening sun streamed through the colored windows.

The other poems of that night, offered in voice, vanished into the sweet spring air so I can only tell you they were all, each of them, extraordinary. I offer you one I wrote the week before, far from perfect but it was of the moment and felt right for that particular time and place. But you must read it yourself.

Want

On the second Sunday
after Easter

our minister,

robes flowing
flowered shawl

draped around his neck,
reads to us.

We sit on the hard benches,

listening.

Warm spring air

blows in through
the open doors.
Outside,
daffodils nod.

“The Lord is my shepherd,”
he reads
from the big open book.
“I shall not want.”
His message is all about
that one word:

Want.

Want,

we want so much,

we see so little.
Open your eyes!
he cries.

We are blind to our desires,

is that what he is saying?

On the road outside,

which passes so near,
bikers stream past,
engines throbbing
with the wantonness of spring.
They pulse by,

each a single beat in a long song of freedom.

With our backs to the doors,

we cannot see them,

we can hardly hear
our man’s words:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters.
He restores. . . .”

Like hungry animals,
the engines snarl,growl and snort

in crescendo.

On and on.
We wait.
There must be hundreds
on this Sunday jaunt.

The wild cacophony wanes.

Diminuendo.

The bikes are headed to
their Jerusalem,

the perfume of spring

their rod,
their passion their staff.

They shall not want.

The next night, jazz resounded into the quiet village and across the pond. Four young men in black gave their versions of “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Ain’t Misbehavin” to a packed crowd of jazz lovers. The drums made crazy rhythms, Scott’s sax cried out. The old floors bounced as we all tapped our feet and held ourselves back from dancing. There was no room for that.

It was a happy night, a very happy night. Now the walls are silent once more, the paintings and the flowers are gone and the church waits for the doors to open for summer services. And, you know, those motorcycles will be out and about, racing toward Loudon.

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