Wednesday, September 23, 2015


St. Petersburg


But what I’m really picturing 

is Omaha: field after field 

of sorghum crisp to my touch

and one house on a high hill, 

sheets on the line. You tell me

everything ceases, that even

our fingernails give up, but

what I really believe is that 

we keep growing: infinite corn,

husk yielding to green husk. 

I look back on the miles 

connecting me to Earth, think

I’d have never worn those shoes.

I slip them off like anything

borrowed. The clouds are thin

and yellow, smelling of 

fireworks and salt. In Omaha, 

the town votes me Queen of

Everything. You are the slow
dance, the last ring of smoke:

to be held tight, and then only
this colder air between us.

  ~ Sandra Beasley
from Agni Online

Beasley imagines becoming the fields and what is planted in them: “we keep growing.” Infinite corn, infinite sorghum.

But there is also a “you” in the poem: the person the speaker loves — someone about to leave her. “You tell me everything ceases.” The speaker knows that their love will end, the way everything must. That’s why the town of Omaha makes her the Queen of Everything. What I find it stunning is the way this poem reverses the usual strategy: it starts with something larger, dying and uniting with nature, and then making its way to the imagined end of a love relationship, the death that is a lot more real and relevant to her right now:

to be held tight, and then only  

this colder air between us.

~ and “this colder air” returns us to the posthumous fields. It’s the order of things, as Bukowski observed, in a brutal way, with his “each gets a taste of honey, then the knife.” Here, it’s being held tight, the assurance of being loved, the warmth and consolation of two bodies close together; then only “the colder air between us.” In the ultimate sense, there is a consoling promise of infinity in nature, though similarly we can’t help but feel the shudder of that colder air. 

Still, this is a poem that reminds me that up to a certain age, it’s not really the physical death that concerns us. Not yet. It’s the deaths before then. The death of a love relationship is much more real and more wounding than the more distant prospect. 


Though the fields seem endless, one senses that the consciousness that imagines entering them is a very solitary one, as is typical of writers. We rarely imagine happy human unions, but then those ever-dancing couples have the secret of being happy also in solitude. Here is one of Nabokov’s  reveries:

Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.

~ Vladimir Nabokov, A Letter That Never Reached Russia

Here the landscape that absorbs the writer’s happiness for perpetuity is an urban one — including, by coincidence, a dancing couple. Still, the speaker wanders alone. Must the dancing always end, and the walking hand in hand? It must — for one thing, without time alone, no writing would be done. 

Sneaky, those writers, declaring their connection to places and lovers, but finding themselves most happy when alone with their thoughts, the places and lovers becoming archetypal, eternal, universal. And yet, and yet . . . those stone steps, that moist reflection of a streetlamp in the black canal, it’s St. Petersburg for Nabokov, isn’t it, and Nebraska for Sandra Beasley. The first landscape becomes the enduring inner landscape.

And the last word, directly or in disguise, is loneliness — but loneliness made beautiful by the richness of life and all that surrounds us.


Here I can’t resist the temptation to quote once more my “Credo” — a poem in which I too imagine myself entering the cityscape of the town where I was born. (Do I repeat myself? I do so with the trust that a good poem becomes even better on re-reading; also, to some readers this will be the first time they encounter the poem.)


When God says, I could give you
the whole world, but would you take it?

he’s expecting No, since I am the alleged

immigrant at a feast, but I say Yes.
Go ahead, give me the world.
But that happened already at my birth.

Now I believe only in California,
dressed in flames each scarlet,
smoky year. A paradise on fault lines.

Like my life, split at seventeen.
Like my soul, an erased
infinity sign. Not even the body

remains our native country.
Leaving me only the inaccurate
loss of homeland, a place where you go

to die. By nineteen I had a plan:
word by word I would dissolve
into the thousand-year-old

town where I was born, an old Viking
river port, river wide as history,
the thick fortress-like cathedral

underworld-cold, me that shivering
dove; me the bowing in the wind,
lost in linden trees;

in the empty granaries,
that blinding
dance of dust and light.

Meanwhile I’ll take the world.

~ Oriana © 2015 

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