Friday, February 8, 2019

An Eternal February Day

Children Skating by Percy Tarrant (1855 - 1934)
~ father of the artist Margaret Tarrant (1888 - 1959) ~


A few years ago, I wrote this note:

Dear Poetical Friends,

I've been trying to track down a poem that I've misplaced and thought and thought I'd check with you in case you recognize the reference. I'm almost certain that the title is "Feast Day." The narrator is a woman who is feeling sad on the first day of her period, and the concluding line is "languorous blood." Does that happen to ring any bells? I remember reading it back in the late 1970s, early 80s, but can't remember where.

I've looked through all my old anthologies and notebooks but can't find it; and I've tried numerous google searches with no luck. I can't remember the poet, but vaguely thought that it might be Joyce Carol Oates. It seems to me that in the middle of the poem, she is looking out of a large window, watching children ice - skating on a pond and feeling fearful of their safety, but it could also be that I've borrowed that skating image from another forgotten poem -- something else I need to find! -- and merged it with the "Feast Day" poem in my mind.

Any clues?


Today I found the poems!

In New Letters: Volume 45 No. 2 (winter, 1978):

Feast Day

under the spell
of fat raindrops splattering the window
streaming down
with shameful eagerness --

Today, a feast
of rich overripe pulpy blood,
a swamp heaving tides of dragonflies and lichen
and fetid clots like exclamations

In disguise,
as rusted blood,
thick and warm and sluggish,
your life begins to inch from you

Changed in the night
to liquid that trembles finely
in a jar of skin
eager to break
and flow to tarantula-sized shapes --
the unspeakable satisfaction
of the belly's hurt
wanting no love,
the thrumming ache of the womb
as it stirs to life
by dying

And the body's blush of fear
that it might this time bleed
away to death --

Still, you turn weak and selfish,
you want the sky to bleed black,
the rain to fall heavily
through the floorboards
where bits of straw and dirt
will float --
you are a scattering of noisy birds
drawn back suddenly to earth

a great beast of a bloodstain
lazy and sweetly - aching
sprawling across the sky

A woman, a fever: the sour hot bliss
of garbagey languorous blood

Winter Landscape: Children Teasing Death

Raucous as winter crows the children edge to the ice's rim
throwing fist - sized rocks of ice -- why? -- into the river
as their shrieks lead them out
their ignorance exploding like joy
their simple blunt souls steaming from their mouths

The sun, Heraclitus declared, measures one foot wide

The piano's note are waiting, tensed, in your fingertips
the lung filled to bursting with black water is waiting
beneath the ice

Overhead? A sky of blurred newsprint,
an eternal January day
that must be learned a syllable at a time

Well, if the ice cracks you are the only witness
you are the one who must save them
if the children fall screaming to their deaths you are the one
who must haul them back

The miracle won't happen --

Alone behind the steamy pane you stare, and listen
to their shouts
as death calls them and they inch outward
gay and raucous as the blackest of fluttery crows

You'll run out into the freezing air as unprepared --

The children are your own? Are you?
No. Nor are they metaphor: boldly, they are real
and the children of strangers
who don't even know your name.

The children will drown, then; it is their right
You are not their future, staring from your house
you might as well be King Pentheus, in women's clothes,
caught like a fool atop a tree

Death teases them out from shore and their cries mock death
and the day is anyway like every other
tundra-hard and dry and cruel
and it's pointless to fear disaster, a friend once said, since
the ones that happen are never
the ones you expect or deserve

both poems by Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938)


Our Reindeer Sleigh by Arthur Hopkins (1848 - 1930)
~ brother of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889) ~

1 comment:

  1. October 16, 2013

    Sent to Jan Jes Lisa Milly Neil Rebecca & a few others.


    Kit, this jogs a memory for me, but I am not sure of the poem. Let me do some thinking! I am loving the trees turning! Such a beautiful time of year!

    Just sent your request on to an expert on Muriel Rukeyser. Perhaps she will know.