It seems apt, as I am in Scotland this week, that I finally “finished” the poem below enough to make it visible to other eyes. In truth, I rarely stop tinkering with a poem, hence my output of completed ones is extremely low.
This one began years ago when I realized, during a conversation with a friend as we were enduring a blizzard in Philadelphia, just how much Scotland – particularly the Highlands – had gotten inside me. I was startled, as we talked about where we’d go to escape the January storm, that my thoughts turned to Scotland and NOT the warm climes of my childhood: Brazil. It was curious, as the latter should have been an obvious – if not automatic – choice.
Some of the lines and images came easily and quickly…. and then it bogged down as I became caught up in the crafting process. It’s the ugly part of writing, the one where I know what’s not working, where the Lover-of-Words debates the Keeper-of-Truth-and-Purpose ad nauseum. In this case, the truce lasted years, until tonight, when a combination of making some changes plus sheer exhaustion at the impasse led to this late draft.
I most worried that the references would be unknown, in turn, to readers who don’t know “things” Brazilian and “things” Scottish. The solution was a change in MY attitude: allow for the reader to figure them out. Or not. Either way, the important recognition was that an artist/poet creates to release/satisfy themselves, not the audience. I enjoyed the process though the result is more “clever” than emotionally strong as a poem. (I know my weaknesses and the difference between a good and a bad poem.)
The concluding three-line verse is still problematic, though the first two lines are part of that original inspiration. I like that image: it’s also how my piled-up books look. Until tonight’s editing, the last word was “stillness” and not “Scotland”. I may go back to it. What do you think?
“Go where in January??”
Winter has cored warmth from the air,
taken Summer’s seed for sowing
far into April’s winds,
and shivering salarymen,
from Tokyo to Saskatchewan,
turn eyes to tropical firmaments.
My own thoughts flow, not southward
to mango groves
where my child-self yet stands willing
the ripened fruit to fall;
to caipirinhas sipped on the sly,
the slurry of liquored-ice creating
a fairyland behind the eyes,
to a Highland windscape of crofts
abandoned since ’45;
to unsheepish flocks that block
the tracks that pass for roads;
to Mallaig docks where sailors stand,
like the saints with up-turned hands
in church windows along the Clyde,
their shared silence a single lament
for shortened days and abrupted sailings to Skye.
Beside my bed,
a cairn of books contains
the hundred words for Scotland.
Aug. 15 – On second thought, it’s an awful poem: I fell in love with some lines and rhymes (“salarymen” and “Saskatchewan”: c’mon, that was good!) and lost sight of what’s important, that it SAY something worth saying. But it doesn’t. It’s dull, it’s vainglorious. And I am leaving it here as a reminder to myself.