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Other books by Sarah White Wars Don’t Happen Anymore to one who bends my time

Iridescent Guest Poems

Sarah White

deerbrook editions

published by

Deerbrook Editions P.O. Box 542 Cumberland, ME 04021 www.deerbrookeditions.com issuu.com/deerbrookeditions first edition

Š 2020 by Sarah White All rights reserved ISBN: 978-1-7343884-3-5 Book Design by Jeffrey Haste Hummingbird silhouette by Sarah White Cover photo (enhanced), Karl Blossfeldt, Delphinium (Larkspur)

“. . . your greys will gleam like the Moon, shine like the Sun.”

with affection and gratitude, to Muses and Makers around me


1. The Art Spirit Let Your Work Be a Surprise to You 13 Rock, Paper, and Broom 14 Nobody Wanted Walt Whitman… 15 Beyond the Pleasure Principle 16 Once, the Troubadour 17 I, Who Never Learned to Long 18 Immortal 19 What Beauty is For 20 Tintoretto 21 Melodeon Memories 22 Credo of the Wishful 23 For Marie Ponsot 25 Of Stars and Scholars 26 Valediction on Shelving Your Complete Works 27 Three Afflictions 28 Poems by Sons 29 Silly 30 “I die without you, you without me…” 31 Nonsense Music 32 2. Philosophical Animals Hummingbird, Flower, Friend “The moon spins away from the Earth…” Forests of Sweetness, Gardens of Sorrow Note on Creole Crone in the Fifth Floor Locker Room The Prophet Bird Melville Views Mt. Greylock from His Study at “Arrowhead” At “The Mount” Darwin Conducts an Interview Movie of a Brain The Vanishing

37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

The Old Lady and the Crows The Rat of Mayhem “The circumflex should be abolished.” Merce Cunningham’s Late Creations The Turtle Race Spells Seldom Undone

48 49 51 52 53 54

3. Beautiful Adieux Departures 57 The Most Natural Thing in the World 58 Disaster, April 15, 1912 59 December Funeral in the Loire Valley 60 “Because it was he, because it was I…” 61 The Kindergarten Tree 62 Three Shadows 63 The Wrong Marriage 65 My Love Speaks of Time and Light 67 Construction Vehicle:Do Not Follow 68 The Calling 70 Little One 71 Mute Elegy 73 Dear Kids, 74 Celestial Machine 76 The Birth of Grey 77 It Must Have Been Scarlatti 78 Acknowledgements 82 Notes, References 83

The Art Spirit

“The study of art is the study of the relative value of things.” —Robert Henri

Let your work be a surprise to you

as if the game were to fish words from a brook with a seine or a slotted spoon— bug, scum, weed, leaf, as if, from upstream, came a fly—trout fly, a “Royal Coachman” my brother tied toward the end of his life—trim feathers floating like a grief between the surface and the weeds underneath.


Rock, Paper, and Broom

A sweeper gathers coins from the floor of the fountain. The Ocean God looks on, glad to have more space for water and less for wishes gathered before dawn, given to the poor of Rome. A rabbi pries with a broom slips of paper from the Western Wall, which needs no paper as mortar. What about the prayers drawn from a pilgrim’s soul and tucked between the stones? Too holy for the poor, they are buried beside worn siddurs and scriptures. My own paper wish was whisked away by a sweeper who told me to visit the Wall and pray with the women. But ha-Shem didn’t listen when I began to speak of Beauty and Joy in a poem. The words wouldn’t come. They needed to be changed and chanted like a psalm.


“Nobody wanted Walt Whitman but Walt Whitman wanted himself” —Robert Henri

Seeing a tan and white pigeon peck at a weed or a worm on the walk in front of my building, I conclude that the creature wouldn’t be there if Mother Pigeon were one of those bird-brains who lays her eggs on a slanted roof. She must have wanted this pigeon as much as it wanted itself.


Beyond the Pleasure Principle

A child plays with a wagon-toy at the end of a long string— long for him, that is—a boy of one-and-some. Because his mother isn’t home, the tot throws his plaything into a curtained crib, throws it very skillfully, says Sigmund Freud, his grandfather,   who tells how, when the toy is out of sight, the kid yells Gone! Fort!   And when he pulls the wagon back, he hollers: Da!  Here!  Thus, he throws away a pleasure he can himself recover, and master, in a game, the loss of Mother. Freud goes on to speak of “the artists,” working over in their minds each day a new ordeal of loss whose final outcome yields a melancholy pleasure.


Once, the Troubadour

went crusading/ carousing/ cruising, sword in hand. The pretty wives of petty rivals signaled from high windows. Riding South against the Pagans, he flashed his blade at random Jews. As William of Aquitaine, sworn servant of the Cross, composed “on horseback a song of pure nothing.� the tune stirred the wind, the wind stirred a storm that soaked his saddlebags and the ink on his maps. From that day on, in Christendom, the road to Jerusalem lies blurred and hidden.


I, Who Never Learned to Long

For the troubadours, longing was loving in its noblest form. Love-from-Afar made words into poems, made melodies rise from the score. Soon after the last World War, my widowed mother traveled to France every year leaving me in the care of Sadie, the Maid. When I wasn’t in school, I would play in the park and a neighbor would say: I’ll bet you’ll be glad when your mother comes home! Of course, you old bat, I’ll be glad when she’s home, glad to be shown her new French clothes, glad to hear of her afternoons on the shores of the River Adour. When the Traveler returned, she told everyone how happy we were, she and I, and, at the time, I believed her.



Of his art and of his end, he wrote: I will not wholly die. Non omnis moriar. True. Horace delights the few though centuries have gone by. “The stars look very cold about the sky” Keats replies. He cares for his brother’s consumption, harvests autumn vines, and transcribes the song of the darkling nightingale, then travels to Rome where, in exhaustion, contagion, and despair, he ceases to breathe, dying mostly, if not wholly, like loved poets lost in recent years— some well-known, some seen now and then in little magazines.


What Beauty is For

“What we call beauty is neither wholly purposeful nor entirely random.” —Ferris Jabr, The New York Times

Did heavenly intention create long-lashed Persian looks in order to protect Persian eyes from blowing sand? Were nose and sinuses designed to temper Persian spices? Or did Beauty’s voice summon sandstorms in the first place, to sift the cardamom and mace, and create, for princesses of Teheran, grand enamel headdresses? Purposeless, the long debate. Somber and stumbling is the mind. A lark leaps to the sun, turns, swoops low, weighted with reasons Reason doesn’t know.



Jacopo Robusti came to the name “Little Dyer” after his father’s trade, and before he dyed his grand diagonals where Christ’s mother, in The Deposition from the Cross, slants, swooning, away from the other falling figures (so she cannot see the son she’s lost) as I myself recoil from most sacred pictures, though not from this, completed as it was by the painter, his two sons, and his daughter (admirable lesser artists), conceived as it was by the Little Dyer’s love for his city of color, industry, and water.


Melodeon Memory

I grow as old as Old Grace Greene, who learned by feel each gravel curve that traveled down from her home on Lincoln Pond. How, with hunched shoulders and strained gaze, could she have held the wheel while we children, mindless, fussed behind her in the rumble seat? Sundays, for a service in the village, I sat beside her at the organ, and provided, if she nodded, the page I thought she needed. Only, she had memorized the whole of Pond Hill Road, and played by heart “Old Hundredth� for the One who, every summer, fed her pond until it overflowed.


Credo of the Wishful

I want the Moon and Sun to circle me. I want Ptolemy and Copernicus— both—in charge of orbits. I want a Mother/Father combo— one kind Person— watching from above. And I want freedom from parental figures, be they ever so heavenly. I want it all! a sense of gratitude to the Creator, and a critical attitude to blunders made by Him or Her— Cancer, Wars, Earthquakes, Elections— Voltaire told us in the Age of Reason to cultivate our gardens without asking questions. Friday evenings, my friend and I light blue-footed flames while singing Baruch Hu we don’t know who to. O Songs! 23

O transformations! Choral anthems, simple hymns: “Lead, Kindly Light:” “Take Thou my feet. I do not ask to see” beyond Amen—a common cadence coming at the end.


For Marie Ponsot

From a stone divan in Cimetière Père Lachaise, Guillaume Apollinaire decrees: “Marie graduates today with High Honors. Sarah stays.” As you depart, Marie, please stop a while to watch me practicing old age with this slender cane: I tap it on the ground to nudge my twisting spine back into line. My left hand, on rainy days, holds a flimsy umbrella, and my right holds the cane, leaving no hand free to turn the pages of The Times. Yet I hear news of you, and learn this: Ferlinghetti was your early friend. Your poems are more erudite and elegant than mine. Your seven kids remained nearby until the end. My two are far away. You’re flying to Elysium now. I’d like to follow, but don’t know how.


Of Stars and Scholars

When first I opened the Commedia, my heart was startled by the intricate design of that grand encyclopedia: Three major parts, each with the same final word. After Dante views the punishments, he stands “pure and prepared to see the stars” Then, he climbs a mountain to meet his Muse and Governess. I was a nervous, pessimistic girl longing for a mentor as kind as Virgil, wise as Beatrice, learnèd as Professor Singleton— timid eminence among the Harvard stars. We finished Paradiso just as Spring came through the window. I didn’t head outside to play, but stayed in Sever Hall to follow every terza rima the way the Poet follows Love, because his Lady’s eyes are really stars.


Valediction On Shelving Your Complete English Poems

Because your Sun was blinding, light leaking through the cracks in my Sleepers’ Den, and because an awful knell was heard all over town, I consigned your works, with the portrait on the cover, to a cell so narrow that a common monk might live there instead of you, John Donne. I muffled your momentous voice, built a wall of books around the slot you’re buried in, bracelet and bone. Forgive me. Tell me the niche I gave you is not too thin. Tell me it is roomy like a suite for the guest at a Prince’s wedding or a Queen’s beheading.


Three Afflictions

“. . . Nobody offered me a seat although I was at least a hundred years older than anyone else . . .” —Nina Cassian, (1924-2014) Call Yourself Alive

Nina, the turban you’re wearing in your Times obituary would be frowsy on an ordinary poet, not on you with your spun-honey hair, your queenly profile made in Romania for Renée Annie Katz. You got those great looks and honed your composition skills at a Bucharest music school. You chose a splendid nom de plume: Cassian! So Roman! Everyone admired your unladylike manner of offending your tyrant, and the knack you had for finding, any place you went, someone to pay the rent. You skimmed some poems of mine and said they would be stronger if I wrote them with my clothes off! Touchée! Now that my nakedness has even less to say, I’ll say it anyway: As we sway together on the bus, we stare at a kid who stares back. unmoved, unimpressed, by our three “major afflictions—” Pride, Loneliness, and Art. 28

Poems of Sons

A man grows older. In a poem, he remembers his father as a man looking out the window, watching a lone crow search for its breakfast, then going upstairs to shave in front of a mirror clouded by a small boy’s adoration. The boy in the poem wishes he had whiskers, and the power to shave them off to grow more overnight. When the boy grows up, he wishes his own son would write him a poem not so much about adult whiskers, as about adult thoughts, a poem where the mirror is free of hero worship, free of steam, while sociable crows are brunching on the lawn.


Notes & Acknowledgments


Thanks to these journals’ editors for publishing the following poems, at times with different titles. American Writer’s Review, “The Wrong Marriage” Muddy River Review, “Immortal,” “ Mute Elegy” “The Old Lady and the Crows” Offcourse Literary Journal, “Departure,” “Forests of Sweetness, Gardens of Sorrow,” “Funeral in the Valley of the Loire,” “I, Who Never Learned to Long, “ “Once, the Troubadour” One-Sentence Poems, “Let your work be a surprise to you,” “Merce Cunningham’s Late Creations,” “The Vanishing” PN Review, “At the Mount,” “Because it was he, because it was I,” “I die without you, you without me… ,” “Nobody wanted Walt Whitman…” “Valediction on Shelving Your Complete English Poems.” Sheila-na-gig, “My Love Speaks of Time and Light” South Florida Poetry Journal, “Crone in the Fifth Floor Locker Room,” “The Shadows,” (no. 3) The Lake, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” “Disaster, April 15, 1912,” “It Must Have Been Scarlatti,” “Little One,” “The Birth of Grey,” “The Prophet Bird” Third Wednesday, “The Turtle Race” Verse-Virtual, “For Marie Ponsot,” “Melodeon Memory,” “Note on Creole,” “Silly”



The Art Spirit, a book of notes and meditations by the painter Robert Henri, 1865-1929 beija-flor: Portuguese, hummingbird, literally, “kiss-flower.” ha-Shem: Hebrew, literally “the name,” one of the approved euphemisms for God. siddur: Hebrew, a prayerbook. Straus, Ida (1849-1912) died when she refused to escape the sinking Titanic by boarding a lifeboat without her husband, Isidor. wanigan: Ojibwa term for a storage space, here, a hamper built to fit in the prow of a canoe.


Henri, Robert, The Art Spirit, (Jay Lippincott Company, New York, 1923) Jabr, Ferris, N.Y. Times Sunday Magazine, January 9, 2019, “How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution” Montaigne, Michel de, Essais, II, “Sur l’Amitié.”


More Praise for Iridescent Guest Sarah White dedicates Iridescent Guest with affection and gratitude to the Muses and Makers around her and goes on to celebrate many of them by name in her poems. It’s soon obvious to the reader that White has lived a rich and long life, shaped by art, music, literature, and philosophy. Many older poets write gloomily of their approaching deadline. Not White (although she does claim to hate the young blonde in the locker room that smells of envy and chlorine. In her final section, “Beautiful Adieux,” White warmly remembers loved ones lost but tells her kids, I mean to “End,”/ not to “Pass.” She’d like her ashes to evaporate, to fall as rain—over the tombs of Dickinson and Beckett,/ Rimbaud, Rembrandt, Manet, and Cassatt—a final tribute to those who shaped her way of embracing the world with words. Certainly life shapes art, but for many people it’s the other way around. When Sarah White says: There is a wood/where the past is foretold, the future remembered, we get a delicious shiver, realizing that here is a book that makes us feel that way, too. — Alarie Tennille

Profile for Deerbrook Editions

Iridescent Guest, poems by Sarah White  

Iridescent Guest, poems by Sarah White  


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