Between Hope and Grace
Virgil, What will I learn I do not know?
When do we leave the devil’s asshole?
Why does rising come only after falling . . .
Poems to fill another book almost ready,
one called Grace to pair with Hope–
Hope for a lady of brave sorrow, of light;
he wasn’t happy with Grace.
Poem of courage, poem of memory:
what was the right order?
He would leave Papa out of it,
a schoolboy’s task. Look around you,
where the wars were waged endlessly.
You didn’t need Jake Barnes’s wound,
everybody down here was born with one;
and if Seattle’s rain was ideal for mourning,
there were no Catherine Barkleys to mourn
where women and children were born to die.
Nor do you need to learn the art of bullfighting
to perfect a way of learning the art
you are given to practice.
What’s inside must merge out here with brio,
where there were no aficionados.
You banked your fires until your ashes stirred.
He had his Dante down. His guide
was Myra Jacobs, who declared his ersatz
terza rima sounded like improvised street talk
transplanted from the fourteenth century
of Firenze to the twentieth in Seattle’s
early sixties. So said this woman
born on the same streets as DG,
the man she lived to love,
whose horn poured honey
through her opening door.
Bobby marveled at the brightness of her eyes
flashing when she read Dante aloud
through the Italian accent resident
in her imagination, and on her lips to stay.
Nothing of his could he claim as translation,
those three lines forged for Dante
a kind of makeshift Virgil.
In the poem Hope that terza rima was envoi
to a daughter’s grief for her long dead father.
In the poem Myra, Bobby’s words for Dante
were purported to be Myra’s own
before her own father’s heart broke open
while reading the recorded words of the dead
Twelve years later, 1977, Myra told him
of a novel whose original, La Storia,
she’d read slowly, closely, three years before.
You couldn’t do better than Elsa Morante.
Bobby read History: A Novel. History
was transformed into fiction you could read
through the reflection of Dante’s
Divina Commedia . . . Myra’s brother
died in Vietnam, his letters home poetry,
first and last, and in between was memory.
And here, on the table, was the poem
called Grace, this one;
he was almost happy.
History now was poetry
in fiction’s guise. No wonder Virgil led
Dante down to meet the devil's own
and through the ice to rise
to reach the in-between place,
then scale the heights to the arms of Beatrice
waiting above the clouds to kiss . . .
Why did Bobby wait a dozen years
to read the words of Cesar Vallejo
Morante took for her book’s epigraph:
por el analfabeto a quien escribo
foreshadowing all other words
"for the illiterate, to whom I write,"
even those Robert Henry St. Clair
scribbled during the fifty years
he read Vallejo, all save "To the Volunteers
of the Republic" in Spain, Take this Cup
from Me, Vallejo's final book before
he died the same year
Bobby was born to say someday:
How could you know what was needed
if you never found the courage to ask?
(26-27 March and 1-2 April 2012 )
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander