— so we said to the somewhat: Be born —
& the shadow kept arriving in segments,
cold currents pushed minerals
up from the sea floor, up through
coral & labels of Diet Coke blame shame
bottles down there —
it is so much work to appear!
unreadable zeroes drop lamps
as mustard fields [Brassica rapa]
gold without hinges, a vital
echo of caring...On the census,
just write: it exists! Blue Wednesday
bells strike the air like forks
on a thrift store plate,
& the shadow moves off to the side...
In the woods, loved ones tramp through
the high grass; they wait in a circle
for the fire to begin;
they throw paper dreams & sins upon
the pyre & kiss, stoking the first
hesitant flame after touching a match
to the bad news — branches are thrust back
across myths before the flame catches — ;
ravens lurch through double-knuckled
pines & the oaks & the otherwise;
a snake slithers over serpentine
then down to the first
dark where every cry has size —
Brenda Hillman, “Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines,” from Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Source: Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013)
- The action of the poem is mysterious, but the atmosphere of expectation and mythic possibility is strong. What is the speaker saying about the tension between the natural world and the human world of consumerism and waste?
- In the first stanza, the speaker invokes something to be born and a sense of motion is initiated, moving up from the ocean floor. How does this set the tone for the poem?
- The final stanza describes an equinox ritual where people write things they want to release onto paper and burn the paper in a fire. Does this feel like a contemporary ritual? Or a timeless one?
- What would you burn in the fire if you could let something go? Can you relate to the speaker of this poem?
- If you were going to recite this poem, how would you capture the sense of uprush of flame in the shape of the stanzas? Where would you pause? Where would you speed up?
- Write a poem about a seasonal ritual, real or imagined. What season would you choose?
Brenda Hillman on PBS NEWS HOUR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5_fy8TpKs0