Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Things with Feathers" by John C. Mannone, Frequent Contributor

Things with Feathers
John C. Mannone

Grief is a vulture
            wings spread over dead flesh
                        by the roadside          
No, Grief is the carrion
            choking the vulture

Hope is a dove
            perched on the windowsill
                        of your heart
No, Hope is your heart
            taking flight toward the sun

Faith is a sparrow
            that cannot see in the glare
No, Faith is the air
            that lifts the sparrow up
                        and doesn’t let it fall

Love is an eagle
            soaring into silence of wind               
No, Love is a song-bird’s song
            faithfully singing hope
                        in the face of grief

Poet’s Notes: This poem arose from a teaching opportunity this past summer when I gave a craft lecture to some motivated elementary school kids in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The workshop focused on several ways on how to deal with abstractions.

I recalled Percival Shelley who would personify abstractions; he would capitalize their names (like Death). I wanted to subvert that idea and use animalification instead of personification, and in particular, birds (for part of the concretization of the abstractions). Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is a Thing with Feathers,” gelled the approach for me. Hers opens like this:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

But when I think of hope, it is almost always bundled with two other beautiful abstractions: faith and charity. Therefore, I felt compelled to work them all into the poem. However, I wanted to do much more than give an example; I wanted to say something that needed to be said. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, you don't write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say.

The power of the trinity of faith, hope, and charity is not so much that the words eliminate grief, but is rather their ability to supplant it. So enters Grief, another abstraction, into the poem as an antithesis. Now, the poem in effect is much like a psalm or proverb—the contrasting responses forming a kind of song.

The cascading structure comes from having read Mary Oliver, who favors that structure for her nature poetry.

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