How To Praise This Mutilated World? – A Post Triggered by Ilya Kaminsky’s Twitter Feed Today – In Response: Two Poems – One from American Poet Maggie Smith and One from Canadian Poet Patrick Lane, from His Posthumous Collection Released Last Week

OscarDomesticated
@OscDomesticated
A note from #Mariupol : “Dima, Mom was killed on 9 March 2022. She died quickly. Then the house burnt down. Dima, I’m sorry I didn’t protect her. I buried Mom near the kindergarten” – and the scheme where exactly. It’s so horrible that tears are freezing in the eyes.

I’ve talked so much about loving the world
without any idea how to do it.

Something about turning the other cheek?
Something, something, feeding the mouth

that bites you? The world I’m trying to love
is all teeth and need, all gray mange

but I can’t resent the wolf for pulling
the lamb down, evven in front of its mother.

I can’t be moved by bleating, a limp throat.
The wolf has her own crying young.

I’ve talked so much about loving the world-
is this how it’s done? I am offering

the only thing I have. I am holding out
my hand, feeding myself to the hungry future.

Maggie Smith from Goldenrod, One Signal Publishers, 2021

How to praise this mutilated world? My version of Adam Zagajewski’s remarkable line from his poem Try and Praise The Mutilated World. My line came to mind as I began to write the title that introduces this blog post after I saw one of the retweets of Ukrainian American poet, Ilya Kaminsky, today. This searing note of a mother’s death on March 9th in Mariupol and the instructions of how

American poet Maggie Smith:Phoito Credit: Studio127 Photography

to find the grave. I accept that the tweet from Oscar Domesticated is true coming as it does from Ilya. It would require a huge imagination to dream this up.

So, I am faced with American poet Maggie Smith’s dilemma: how do I love a world which has a story and an image like this in it? But as so many poets including Ilya tell me: I am called to love this mutilated world.  I ask myself: can I do as Maggie Smith says? I am holding out/ my hand, feeding myself to the hungry future. 

Then I read a poem from the latest poetry collection, The Quiet In Me, by great Canadian poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019), my beloved mentor. This collection has just been published posthumously by Harbour Publishing. The poem, which in a uncanny way feels like a poem written for this moment, reminds me that we praise the world by singing the world, its joys and sorrows. And I  think of Patrick’s poem as singing to that mother killed in Mariupol and to the person who buried her. Thank you Patrick. She is my burden now. And I pray for her and all the others who have died because, as Patrick writes, we cannot turn away.


Small Elegy

The silence of the dead is what we own.
It’s why we sing. The sky is clear today.
Go on, I hear my father say, my mother too,
and although they rest in sunken graves
I hear them still. The sky is clear today,
the harvest weeks away and no forests burn.
The dead sing in the rubble and the fires.
You must listen to their song.
Their burden is our lives.
We pray because we cannot turn away.

Patrick Lane from  The Quiet In Me, selected and edited by Lorna Crozier, Harbour Publishing, 2022

Ilya Kaminsky, Adam Zagajewski, Maggie Smith and Patrick Lane: this is how I love this mutilated world. I sing it. I praise it. I cry for it. I write for it. I share your voices as they sing their cries of sorrow and joy.

And Patrick, I think you were writing this poem after one of many recent fire seasons here in B.C. Your praise: The sky is clear today. And how you repeat it. Something you taught me was should never be random in a poem! It says: pay attention. I pray this evening for clear skies again in Ukraine. By sharing these poems, this blog, I refuse to turn away. As Ilya refuses to turn away.

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