Spectral Lyre‘s blog mission is to present quality work of others, both living and not. Today, I make an exception. No…I’m not gonna present awful work of others. I’m breaking protocol in order to highlight a quality poem written by one of us — Julie Kim Shavin — who also contributes essays here. I hope this is the first and last time this happens — it’s gauche and twitch-inducing for one of us to be presenting the work of one of us. Spectral Lyre is about others, except for just this once.
I got myself nostalgically swarmed, mystically stupefied, and aesthetically impressed by Julie Kim Shavin’s poem “Children of a Typical God.” I’ll have a few particular things to say after the poem.
Children of a Typical God
The summer we slid down small hills
was the best one ever.
We were speaking to one another then,
the neighbors to one another,
our parents too.
We never asked if the trees spoke –
they just handed us our shade
and stalled the rain a bit.
We were children of a typical God
who made all things, including us,
It was the best summer,
though we wouldn’t know it
until decades later,
when great machines came
and tore at the woods beyond
our former swings, where crickets
once sang even louder;
until one of us died young,
and another by his own hand.
But memory holds them hale and singing
and the hill slipping beneath us,
the scatter of laughter grazing stars
that season of innocence
and its sweet and comely cousins.
The structure and technique of this poem are remarkable. The lines flow like an extended Wordsworth meditation, like an Adam Zagajewski effusion of homesickness (“To Go to Lvov”). No stanzas; rather, a tightly textured weaving of a single, long-breathed impression. Images, both visual and auditory, dominate the poem. That’s good. A poem moving without images is like a duck barking without feathers — it’s a monster.
The subterranean music of the poem is transporting. Somehow, a straightforward conversational tonality is seamlessly blended into a subtle lyricism. I think this is key to written aesthetic accomplishment — when language functions as a dualism. Beneath the regular meaning and utterance of words, an older, Orphic resonance and gesture might appear. I think this is probably innate. A poet either has the knack or not.
A cursory reading could situate this poem among the sentimental tones of sepia photographs and the halos of half dreams. A more patient involvement with the lines takes the reader quite a bit deeper, and into the prismatic clarity of early time, into a curious light burning off precipitate fogginess. A sense of actual childhood leaps in natural spirits. Sound, giddiness, and perspiration are implicit. A community of beings without the Internet is brought before us, trumping the merely virtual. This was even before hippies and the replacement of the solid world with a New Age gaseous one.
But things do get mystical later on in the poem. Not hippie mystical; art mystical. It begins to happen as we zoom back from childhood, as time becomes the stuff of memory. “Progress” happens, and people die. But we humans are strange enough that we’re able to capture time in tangent spheres. Glancing sideways into those tangents is perhaps a special mode of seeing. And it seems to me the farther we proceed through our years, the less solid, more equivocal we become. Conversely, our farthest-back things and happenings retain the weight of solemn significance, of infinite color, of perturbing beauty always beyond the tip of the tongue. The lines of this poem show art at work on our metaphysical problem of the ever gone but never lost.
“Children of a Typical God” concludes with one of the most startling lines I’ve encountered in quite a while. Who or what are these “sweet and comely cousins”? It’s best not, I think, to probe that line with too-intense a gaze. It’s the kind of strange complex image that should be allowed to slowly twirl on the boundary of diction and imagination.
Posted by Tim Buck