Today's book of poetry: Winter. Patricia Farngnoli. The Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series, Volume VI. Hobblebush Books. Brooklyn, New Hampshire. 2013.
For the past few days there has been a meme making the rounds of FaceBook. It goes like this:
The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90.
"Because I think I'm making progress." he replied.
I'm thinking this applies to the elegant poetry of Patricia Fargnoli. Fargnoli, a former New Hampshire Poet Laureate, shows us some of the characteristics of the senior artist whose has seen it, tried it, out-lived it, and now has that considered voice of experience. Fargnoli has learned to separate the wheat from the chaff and winnowed to the essential grain, where the nourishment lay.
If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know if for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.
These languid poems seemingly roll off of Fargnoli's effortless tongue but I'm certain the Pablo Casals motto holds true. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
Winter, Patricia Fargnoli's fourth book of poetry, has a gentle forcefulness behind every line. You can call it wisdom or experience, I'm going to call it the reader's luck. Fargnoli talks to us about "the quiet things that are".
Four times a day and twice during the night
through all of the relentless
ice-locked mid-winter days,
my widow-neighbor carries her dog,
a little honey-colored mutt,
down the stairs from her second floor apartment
into the sharp zero cold.
It's actually more like lugging an inert body,
Neddie his name is, old now and ill.
He whines and she knows
something is hurting badly.
Soon she will have to put him to sleep,
she can't do this much longer, old herself,
his weight unsteadying her on the steep stairs.
She cries while she tells me this,
as she lowers him down
to the ice-covered snow,
where he turns and turns, slipping a little
before he finally settles down,
the lemon juice stain spreading out
across the whiteness.
She says she's fighting off grief,
and not for the first time,
then stretches her back,
tired as it is, and bends to lift him again,
smoothing his long fur
with the practiced strokes of a lover.
The Precious Book
Gwen John, circa 1920, oil on canvas
Who among us becomes what we set out to be?
The girl in the long blue dress cradles the open book
in a handkerchief in her hands. Next to her on the table,
an empty white plate and a closed black book
that partly extends over the edge of the table
as if she had just put it away and taken up this other.
The book she is reading is red and the girl's face is as devout
as a nun praying. The background, only a beige wall, nothing else.
Do the words of the valuable book enter her mind and change her?
Does she grow into the woman the artist later becomes?
A model for Rodin, his lover, that sad affair,
how she died overshadowed, unrecognized?
The red book is the only thing of bright color here, a light
in her hands. We give our hearts to her, don't we?
The long blue dress of her life, this moment of stastis
when the future can't touch her.
Time and time again as I read these pages — I wanted to share more poems. Is it too trite for me to say these are sage wisdom stuff? Well, it's been said.
Fargnoli hits the right note time and again, whether she is asking the much needed question or providing resolution. These quiet, understated and very powerful poems resonated with me. Winter addresses questions of our mortality, our morality, big question stuff, but it is never in your face, the quiet timing of Fargnoli's approach, giving voice to the essential little questions as well, somehow it is the voice of something weathered, but still strong and dependable.
Sixty Years after My Mother's Death
Her voice is nothing
but wind through a tunnel
beneath a snow-covered mountain
somewhere in the high country
a tunnel over tracks
where a train has just rattled through
a brief flash of lighted windows and passengers
on the way to the emptiness of the plains—
so that the tunnel is filled with absence
except for this wind that does not howl
but whispers as if she were bearing
her vestige back to me.
Shadow at Evening
After all day walking the Vermont craft fair in the sun
after the goat-milk soaps and rose-scented sachets
the bright pottery stalls and the wooden animals
while my shadow preceded me along the grassy aisles
and disappeared reappeared as I moved in and out
of the shadows of maples and gray ash trees
where the breathy music of the accordion player floated
where the field was vibrant with color and motion
stalls of candles relishes and pickles cotton candy in plastic sleeves
I drove home and my shadow rode beside me drove lazily
watching the Green Mountains pass outside the windows
home to my own small cache of solitude and grace
then my shadow disappeared into the brown carpet
disappeared into the bookshelves and the books
I never missed it but just continued on with my quiet life
but now through the east window evening approaches
but now night is knocking against the long shadows
of the street lamp as my shadow rises mysterious and compliant
and I beckon it to enter me until I am one with it at last
and I allow the day to close and dream to come
allow the dream to rise from nowhere and come to me
In the end, I couldn't get enough of Patricia's Fargnoli's Winter. I liked the pace of these poems, the politic of these poems, the mature love of poetry in these poems.
Patricia Fargnoli reading "Wherever You Are Going"