the gathering of...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Gjertrud Schnackenberg


Threading the palm, a web of little lines
Spells out the lost money, the heart, the head,
The wagging tongues, the sudden deaths, in signs
We would smooth out, like imprints on a bed,

In signs that can’t be helped, geese heading south,
In signs read anxiously, like breath that clouds
A mirror held to a barely open mouth,
Like telegrams, the gathering of crowds—

The plane’s X in the sky, spelling disaster:
Before the whistle and hit, a tracer flare;
Before rubble, a hairline crack in plaster
And a housefly’s panicked scribbling on the air.


Signs, in general, point us the way, show us how to arrive, depart, journey. They let us know that something will or will not happen – all the while connecting with us on many levels – perhaps that we don’t fully understand or appreciate. Schnackenberg uses in this poem an array of odd presences to engage the reader.

This is writing to startle the senses, to unearth the possibilities in the self, image to image and line to line. The language, seamless and pleasing in its music, pulls the reader through the poem. Details unsettle each focal point to make way for something new – in rapid fire – but the unease is not disconcerting, most probably because this is a poem whose defining essence is motion.

At the poem’s end, the fly’s desperate “scribbling on the air” leaves its force – some sort of impression, desperately written – in the mind. No conclusion. A rapid sense that gathers but doesn't form. Schnackenberg refuses to close the poem: breath clouding a mirror, the gathering crowds, the plane’s x, the flare, the rubble, the crack, the fly’s scribbling. The reader’s direct attention is inflated, then let go. Only a writer in possession of confidence and craft would attempt such a move, but here, the technique succeeds in a masterful way.


poet with a day job said...

great poem. I was first introduced to GS by my original mentor Judy Baumel who said "great poet, but surely a mouthful for a name!"

I am obsessed with signs. I think everything is a sign. I think it is a part of my relentless "poet's journey."

Pamela said...

I didn't know this poem--or this author. I'm definitely looking for more of her work. Thanks, Sam!

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Impatiens is full of signs. You do identify with them, Melissa.
"We recognize truths at first
as those things that happen to someone else
our hands clutched on the armrest"

And Pamela, Schnackenberg has a strong body of poetry - A Gilded Lapse of Time is a powerful read.

Thanks for reading, both of you.