Sunday, April 20, 2014

National Poetry Month: William Bronk

"The Acts of the Apostles"
(William Bronk)

The second time the flesh was harder to put on
and there was no womb to shape and soften it,
unless it were Joseph's tomb in the cut rock
that shaped, perhaps, but more misshaped to a kept
mask, as a wet shoe is hardened as it dries
to a foot shape and the print of a step, but not
to the moving muscle and bone that walking was.
What wonder then that Mary, who loved his life,
mistook him for the gardener, and humbled by love,
asked only where they had laid him that took him away.

The men, too, were uncertain they saw, at first.
Thomas doubted and thrust his hand in the wounds.
There must have been some subtle difference gone
from the flesh they loved, or a difference newly come
to make a change in it. Say the change was death
that had wrought hard with it; or say the fact
that flesh appeared and disappeared without
their knowing, bewildered them. They did rejoice,
but only as though their hope had stretched too far.
And Peter went back to cast his nets upon the sea.

Some grief is stronger than any joy before
or after it, and life survives. It feeds
within itself on grief, not nourished then
by other food, as winter trees survive
because they do not feed. Their mouths refused
almost the taste of the brief return; grief-seared,
they could not savor it. The time did come, --
but it was afterwards, that a new joy
leafed over their grief as a tree is leafed.
It was the tree of grief that grew these leaves.

We share the movement that young birds learn
when clumsy with size, they grow to the empty air
and fall, and find the empty air sustains.
So we are lofted in our downward course by the wide
void of loss through which we fall to loss
and lose again, until we too are lost
in a heavier element, the earth or sea.
We grow in stature: grief is real and loss is
for life, as long as life. Long light,
soar freely, spiral and glide in the empty air.

"The Acts of the Apostles" by William Bronk (1918-1999) appeared in The Gist of Origin, 1951-1971 edited by Cid Corman (1975), an anthology of the literary magazine where the poet was a frequent contributor. The forms of his poetry developed gradually: in 1988 he was asked if he consciously chose the structure of his poems: "It never happens that I said, well, I think the essential poetry today is poetry in three lines, and I’m going to have to write some poetry in three lines. It’s just that it started to happen in that way ...I went through a period of many months, maybe a year, with Shakespearian sonnets. Almost every night before I went to sleep I would read one or two and read them very carefully: what’s he saying here? How’s he doing this. What’s he mean by this word? Very close reading, so I suppose it probably formed my mind into thinking in that span, and I also occasionally before and after that period wrote in fourteen/ lines but it wasn’t a decision on my part — except that it was an interesting form and what could be done with it, and I didn’t have to force it. This is the way things happen." His collections in a long career include Life Supports (1982), My Father Photographed With Friends (1976), The Cage of Age (1996), and  The World, The Worldless (1964). 

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