Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Third & Final Poem of the Winning Set for the 2018 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award

What I Mean By Beauty
Doris Ferleger

"Dream" Watercolor and Acrylic on Paper
by J. Artemus Gordon
What I mean by beauty is not the strange red sky
you said belonged only to me or the regular blue sky
with white clouds you claimed as your own
because you believed, you said, only what you could see.

What I mean by beauty is how you trusted me,
let my words wash over you though you had
no idea what I was talking about when I said,
the sky's fire-red feet rake across our bodies.

What I mean by beauty is not the brilliant broach
of white moon against the eloquent deep blue,
the kind of blue that enunciates and disrobes
in the parking lot at the Home Depot.

I mean how the heavyset couple walks out
of the store side by side, how each then drifts,
one in front of the other, how they look happy,
unadorned, with white PVC piping poking out

of the supersized orange cart, how they indulge
me when I point to the sliver of moon the way
a child might. How the woman with a blond-streaked
wig stops her jalopy beside me, her front seat filled

with marked-down shiny fat-leafed rubber plants,
how she says, I see you got some too! Though
I got coreopsis with spidery leaves, pale yellow flowers,
tiny stars, I agree with her since she just wants to say

from One came many and how we need each other.
What I mean by beauty is when I point to the moon,
the woman with the bright abundant wig laughs
and says, Ya gotta love that! How she doesn't turn her head

to look back at the white crescent. She is sure of love
as she drives off with her rubber plants. What I mean
by beauty is freedom; when I say freedom I mean how
the moon lifts us, seats us into the deep curve of her hip.

Poet’s Notes:  For our second date forty years ago, my late husband had asked if I would go with him to collect soil samples. He was a scientist. I was an English teacher and poet.  He became a physician who did a fellowship in statistics and epidemiology in his late fifties. He trusted statistics; he trusted bodies to speak their truths; he trusted me, though the language I spoke of metaphor and image was not his language. I trusted him, though the language of numbers and spleen and pancreas was not mine.

I knew on that second date that I wanted to spend my life with him. When in my late fifties I was asked to write a poem about beauty, I immediately thought of that mutual trust that became the bedrock for our thirty-five-year marriage. I was interrupted from beginning the poem by my mundane desire to cash in on the plant sale at Home Depot before the store closed.

Yet beauty kept insisting itself: the beauty of unself-conscious human connection, the beauty of our human need for connection, our incontrovertible connection to each other and to the moon in all its phases, the crescent of love lifting us, holding us even as we shop for specials on rubber plants. Likely I would not have seen all this as beauty had I not just been immersing myself in thinking about beauty.

Editor’s Note:  One of the amazing things about well-written poetry is its ability to transform the mundane and quotidian into the sublime.  Ferleger has accomplished that here with her epiphanies in the parking lot.  Her modern take on the quatrain would make Emily Dickinson proud.  

“What I Mean By Beauty” was first published by Poet Lore in 2010.  A bio of the poet and comments by Guest Contest Judge Former Kansas Poet Laureate Eric McHenry may be found here 

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