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On Sundays We Read Poetry

Each Sunday, I post a brief introduction to a collection of poetry I've been loving. I include one poem that I think really sings. No review. No need. If it's here, you'll know I recommend it. If you have one to recommend (yours or someone else's), send it along. I'll do my best to be here every Sunday.


Some years ago, volunteering with the Conference on Southern Literature, I picked up poet Gerald Barrax from his hotel and drove him to the Community College where he would speak to students for an hour or so. We probably chatted quietly in the car, but he was shy, more withdrawn than I expected. And though I can't quite remember, I almost recall that he declined to read from his own work, choosing instead to recite Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," which - as you likely know - is one of the world's perfect poems. He drew those students into a discussion of craft, and it was quiet and brilliant and humble, and later that day, I bought his book. And today I read it through: his 1998 collection From a Person Sitting in Darkness because it is Sunday, and it was raining, and it seemed right. Here is one of his early poems, from a time when his work was more experimental, influenced by Cummings, I think, and not always directly in reach. I like that about it.

Your Eyes Have Their Silence

Your eyes have their silence in giving words

back more beautifully than trees can rain

and give back in swaying the rain

that makes silence mutable and startles nesting birds.

And so it rains. And I speak or not

as your eyes go from silence suddenly

at love to wonder (as those quiet birds suddenly

at rain) letting, finally, myself be taught

silence before your eyes conceding everything

spoken as experience, as love, as reason

enough not to speak of them, and my reason

crawls into the silence of your eyes. Spring

always promises something, sometimes only more

beauty: and so it rains. And I take

whatever promise there is in silence as you take

words as rain and give them back in silence before

there are ways to say that more beauty is nothing

for you before my hands can memorize

the beauty of your slender movements and nothing

is beautiful as words nesting in your eyes.


And now, just this moment, looking him up to see what he has been doing all these years since then, I learn that he passed away in December, struck by a car as he crossed the street. So I will leave you with his words, from this article explaining his life and legacy:

The job of a poet is to tell the truth, and everything flows from that.


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