Provenance of a Small Poem of Mine – With Thanks to Jane Hirschfield and Hanif Abdurraqib

Autumn here and on the bench, the fallen florets of a white dahlia.


Again the wind
flakes gold-leaf from the trees
and the painting darkens—
as if a thousand penitents
kissed an icon
till it thinned
back to bare wood,
without diminishment.

Jane Hirschfield from The Paris Review, Winter 1988

American Poet and Essayist Jane Hirschfield

As Fall begins what a lovely poem by Jane Hirschfield to celebrate its coming. Big thanks to The Paris Review for posting in their on-line newsletter today. This eight-line gem of a poem. One sentence. And for me the thunderous word: diminishment. The sound of that on the tongue. And the power of the idea; without diminshment.

And that poem of hers led me to write my small poem below. One that benefits from the poems of others: Hirschfield’s poem and her word diminishment and a fact in a poem by Hanif Abdurraqib. But it started from my memory from last night of how, in placing a vase of dahlais on a small bench by a window, I touched a white dahlia and its florets fell as one! A puddle of florets on the bench as you can see in my picture above! It felt like an Autumn moment!


White Dahlia

One touch on the blossom,
not one flower, but many, who knew,
and all the florets dropped
on the birdseye maple bench.
That quick, the loss,
the diminishment.

Richard Osler, 2019

I was so surprised when Hirschfield’s word came into the poem. And before that something from Abdurraqib’s poem, where I learned that a dandelion’s yellow head isn’t a flower but many flowers on a single head. Not petals. And from a search on-line where I learned dahlias were the same. Each head a head of many flowers, many florets!

And I was surprised by the sudden sense of utter loss when the many white flowers from that dahlia head collapsed on to the bench. And I felt again the loss I had felt so viscerally at a poetry reading earlier in the day in Nanaimo when the Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, at one moment, stopped reading, she was so full of feeling, and a sense of her loss of her beloved, Patrick Lane, who died in March, filled the room. As one poet friend, Leanne, described it in a Facebook comment: Yesterday as Lorna read she was gracious with herself and gave time for feeling. In those moments of silence Patrick entered the room. I miss him. Thank you Leanne. Me, too!

American poet Hanif Abdurraqib

Now here is Abdurraqib’s poem. Not here because of Autumn or loss from death but because how he uses a little-know scientific fact with such effect. Turns this into a stunning metaphor: & lord knows I have been called by what I look like/ more than I have been called by what I actually am.

How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This

dear reader, with our heels digging into the good
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like
more than I have been called by what I actually am &
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this
exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive
to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning,
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

Hanif Abdurraqib from Poem-a-Day, July 4, 2018

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *