Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work"
I've just read this tiny book written by Kathleen Norris (published in 1998). Intimate in both physical size and it's personal voice, she takes some moments to talk about poetry. What is so interesting is a small poem by Norris nestled in the center of her text. The prose almost wraps around this poem, hiding and yet illustrating the book's lyrical core.
Kathleen Noris writes something about this particular poem that I think could apply to poetry in general:
The poem, like housekeeping itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.
In the poem, by puling many disparate things together, I tried to replicate an actual work of cleaning, sorting through the leftovers, the odd pieces of a life, in order to make a whole.
As a collage artist, I too find that I am most satisfied with poems I write in this same styled house-cleaning-method. In my poetry journal I stab down bits of lines, vague thoughts, clutter that claims to be important. Later I find that sometimes these remnants can be put together into one poem. Sometimes, I find they belonged together all along. For me, these are the best moments.
Do you think poetry as housekeeping of the mind is too menial a metaphor? How do you write a poem?
And for the curious, here is Norris' poem:
by Kathleen Norris
Kneeling in the dust, I recall
the church in Enna, Sicily
where Ceres and Proserpine reigned
until a Pope kicked them out
in the mid-19th century.
This is my Hades, where I find
what the house has eaten.
And Jessica was left with only
the raw, sheer, endless terror
of being alone in the world.
"We are alone, Jessica," I say aloud;
the whole box of romances must go.
I keep the photograph of the young girl
under cotton woods.
Her belly is still flat, not yet a fruit
split open, the child shining
in its membrane
like a pomegranate seed.
She ended both their lives,
and no mother's rage or weeping
could bring her back.
I leave her with the book of fairy tales:
still safe, held fast,
in Sleeping Beauty's bramble forest.
I could use some sleep.
What I do must be done
each day, in every season,
like a liturgy. I want to pray
to Mary Magdalene, who kept seven
one for each day of the week.
How practical; how womanly.
My barren black cat rubs against my legs.
I think of the barren women
exhorted by the Good Book
to break into song:
we should sing, dear cat,
for the children who will come in our old age.
The cat doesn't laugh,
but I do. She rolls in dust
as I finish sweeping.
I empty the washer
and gather what I need for the return:
the basket of clothes
and bag of clothes-pins,
a worn spring jacket in need of mending.
Then I head upstairs, singing an old hymn.