Example poetry

Poem of the week: Because by Grace Schulman | Poetry



Because, in a wounded universe, the tufts
of grass still shines, the first daffodil
gushes through melting ice, and a red-tailed hawk

perched on a cathedral spire; and because
children throw a fire red ball in the yard
where the facade of a school has been scarred by vandals,

and joggers still circle a dry reservoir;
because a rainbow shows off its painted ribbons
and slips them somewhere under the ground;

because in a smoky bar the trombone sounds
louder than street sirens, because these
who can no longer speak of pain sings;

and when on this broad meadow in the park
a full moon still eclipses the city lights,
and on returning home, under the polar star,

I see new bricks and glass where the Towers fell;
and I remember my lover’s calloused hand
soften in my hand as the apple trees bloom

showered our knees, and a yellow rose
opened with its satellites of orange buds,
’cause I can’t lose the hurting world

without losing the world, I will have to praise it.

Italian influences permeate the rich cultural backdrop of Grace Schulman’s 2020 collection, The Marble Bed. The angel of resurrection sculpture by Giulio Monteverde adorns the cover of the book, and the book includes an illustrated sequence of meditations on this funerary sculpture and others in the monumental cemetery of Staglieno. Literary allusions include the 20th-century poet Eugenio Montale, while Montale’s 14th-century mentor, Dante Alighieriis also a presiding spirit for Schulman.

Reviewing the marble bed in the East Hampton Star, Julie Sheehan pointed out that the poems also represent a “quarrel” with Dante. Schulman may sometimes organize her poem into tercets, but she does not write terza rima and rarely uses the final rhyme. There is also a more flexible number of syllables than Dante’s hendecasyllabic line: Schulman often interweaves lines of 12 and 11 syllables, as in Because. Beyond this formal level, Schulman also questions Dante’s cosmology, the tripartite universe of Hell, Purgatorio and Paradise in The Divine Comedy. Schulman’s contemporary urban settings are closer to those of Montale, haunted by memory, tangled, impure. Heaven and hell are inextricably linked. Because it is a poem that underlines and even honors this condition.

The images and scenes seen at the beginning of the poem are cause for celebration. The arrival of spring is suggested by the “shiny” tufts of grass (the new blades of grass having that special shine) and the daffodil “rising through the melting ice”. the red-tailed hawk on the spire of the cathedral is a cheerfully assertive and irreverent figure, perhaps a distant relative of Elizabeth Bishop’s racket birds in the poem Roosters: “[a] the rooster jubilates //… on our churches / where the pewter rooster perches.

Red is also the color of the ball the kids throw in the neglected yard – more specifically, “fire red”. Now, subliminally, the poem registers the wound of the “wounded universe” and prepares the sixth verse. Here, the sight of “new bricks and glass where the towers have fallen” doesn’t negate images of the Twin Towers hell: fiery devastation and blazing spring new construction must simply coexist in our imaginations.

In this same stanza, the poem gently changes key to introduce an image of marriage that the poet celebrates in Le lit de marble. (The poems are dedicated to her late husband Jerome L Schulman, 1927-2016.) There is an implied contrast between the “dry reservoir” that the “joggers still encircle” in the third tercet, and the rich showers of crabapple blossoms , the budding roses and the memory of “my lover’s calloused hand / softens in my hand” in tercets six and seven.

Schulman is careful, while choosing images that have universal appeal, to slant them against the obvious. The rainbow, for example, is singularly conceived: at first decorative, it “exhibits its painted ribbons / and slips them somewhere under the ground”.

The myth (the gold at the end of the rainbow) is transmuted into mineral realities. “Nature” is not always favoured. The sound of jazz from a ‘smoky bar’ is as significant as the full moon and the North Star: the street sirens are drowned out, morally if not literally, as ‘those who can speak no more of pain sing’.

Thus the poem, gaining strength as it sings a one-phrase accumulative song, rises to a beautifully calm and unmistakable resolution: “because I cannot lose the hurting world // without losing the world , I will have to rent it”. This seals the argument with poetry’s oldest reason for existing – to sing the praises of the world, as the Anglo-Saxon poet Caedmon Is it that.

The marble bed is published by Turtle Point Press, also the publisher of Schulman’s memoir, Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage.

Another selection of his work can be enjoyed here.

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