Thursday, January 19, 2023

A Gathering of Poetry: January 2023

It's the third Thursday of the month so I'd like to welcome you to A Gathering of Poetry. Today's poem is one that I've read multiple times and each time I come across a new word, a new idea, or a new mental picture. I've written before about my love for Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro (one of the best books I read in 2022). The author quotes this poem in the book's epigraph, and once I read the whole poem I was completely smitten.

by Carolyn Forché

A peacock on an olive branch looks beyond
the grove to the road, beyond the road to the sea,
blank-lit, where a sailboat anchors to a cove.
As it is morning, below deck a man is pouring water into a cup,
listening to the radio-talk of the ships: barges dead
in the calms awaiting port call, pleasure boats whose lights
hours ago went out, fishermen setting their nets for mullet,
as summer tavernas hang octopus to dry on their lines,
whisper smoke into wood ovens, sweep the terraces
clear of night, putting the music out with morning
light, and for the breadth of an hour it is possible
to consider the waters of this sea wine-dark, to remember
that there was no word for blue among the ancients,
but there was the whirring sound before the oars 
of the great triremes sang out of the seam of world,
through pine-sieved winds silvered by salt flats until
they were light enough to pass for breath from the heavens,
troubled enough to fell ships and darken thought—
then as now the clouds pass, roosters sleep in their huts,
the sea flattens under glass air, but there is nothing to hold us there:
not the quiet of marble nor the luff of sail, fields of thyme,
a vineyard at harvest, and the sea filled with the bones of those
in flight from wars east and south, our wars, their remains
scavenged on the seafloor and in its caves, belongings now
a flotsam washed to the rocks. Stand here and look
into the distant haze, there where the holy mountain
with its thousand monks wraps itself in shawls of rain,
then look to the west, where the rubber boats tipped
into the tough waves. Rest your eyes there, remembering the words
of Anacreon, himself a refugee of war, who appears
in the writings of Herodotus:
How the waves of the sea kiss the shore!
For if the earth is a camp and the sea
an ossuary of souls, light your signal fires
wherever you find yourselves.
Come the morning, launch your boats.


Carolyn Forché."Mourning". In the Lateness of the World. Penguin, 2020, New York.

You can read more about the poet here


Triremes, pine-sieved, luff, ossuary, and more. I love the language in this poem and the pictures it conjures for me. 

Thanks for reading and joining us for our monthly Gathering of Poetry. Be sure to visit Kym and Kat so you can gather more poetry and you can add your link below if you would like to share one of your favorite poems. The more the merrier!

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  1. What a gorgeous poem, Bonny. I'd been meaning to look up the whole poem after reading Signal Fires . . . but just never did. I'm so glad you shared it now! XO

  2. The imagery of this poem is just incredible -- the sea as an ossuary of souls! Thank you for starting out my day with this.

  3. I am echoing Kym... it is a gorgeous poem! And what an incredible way to end a book... with some lines from a poem! I loved Forchés use of language... I had to look up triremes! But yes to luff and an ossuary of souls! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  4. Wow! What a poem! So many images, so beautiful (so many words I did look up). I love the phrase "light enough to pass for breath from the heavens: and also the words "pine sieved winds." Thanks for sharing this Bonny!!

  5. There are so many layers of meaning in this beautiful poem. Have you ever read Forche's memoir "What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance"? I thought it was a very moving memoir that gave me deeper insight to her poetry.

    1. I have not read her memoir but am off to check the library. This sounds wonderful and I thank you for the recommendation, Debbie!

  6. this is lovely, Bonny, thank you for sharing!

  7. This is a poem to read slowly and reread. There is so much imagery and language to savor. Thank you.


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