Next Line, Please

This Was Glory, Too

By David Lehman | February 19, 2019
Ram Yoga/Flickr

Five weeks ago, we set out to write a poem, brick by brick, stanza by stanza. Something happened along the way. Call it the proliferation principle. So many good lines competed for space that I couldn’t resist shuffling them like cards, with the result that I can now present not one but six poems: a sequence of five four-stanza poems, each with its own title, plus a sonnet assembled by Maureen and completed by Patricia Smith.

For the sequence, I propose the collective title “This Was Glory, Too,” taken from a line contributed by Christa W. Overbeck. Here is the poem in its entirety, annotated, an homage to the charms of literary collaboration. I use boldface to acknowledge the fourth stanzas’ authors:

1. Sovereign

I spent my days in an expanse of spirits,
vodka, scotch, tequila, gin—pick a poison then— [Pamela Joyce S.]
then spent, I slept; of reality dreamt;
and by mourning, could find no rest. [Koahakumele]

When night unstops its cross-boned bottle,
the dream: he killed a child by accident;
I protected him; even now, parents wait [Angela Ball]
where sat the two children we didn’t have, [David Lehman]

all grown up, as if entire chapters were skipped. [Lutz Ebersdorf]
Their wake precedes dawn. He opens his eyes. [Diana Ferraro]
The wine had turned sour, and the pickled fruit [Donald LaBranche]
smacked us awake in winter, real like medicine. [Stephanie Cohen / Katie R]

I am sovereign of the air-settled world. [Christa Overbeck]
Summer hits the swift wings of a swallow, [Diana Ferraro]
And then the blackbirds escaped, [Katie R]
succumbing in the snow to winter sleep. [Millicent Caliban]

2. The Dream

I spent my days in an expanse of spirits,
vodka, scotch, tequila, gin—pick a poison then— [Pamela Joyce S.]
then spent, I slept, of reality dreamt:
and by mourning could find no rest. [Koahakumele]

When night unstops its cross-boned bottle,
the dream: he killed a child by accident.
I protected him. Even now, parents wait [Angela Ball]
where sat the two children we didn’t have. [David Lehman]

The mother becomes her daughter,
the father leaves for work, and from
the third-floor window the young
brother watches his sister go to school. [David Lehman]

It sits on her, hatches confidence or shame—choose one—
the dog barks—an iron clunk—mail slot
admits envelope, its addressees
our starry successors. [Angela Ball]

3. No Absolution

I spent my days in an expanse of spirits,
vodka, scotch, tequila, gin—pick a poison then— [Pamela Joyce S.]
then spent, I slept; of reality dreamt;
and by mourning, could find no rest. [Koahakumele]

When, like a thieved wallet, the house emptied, [Stephanie Cohen]
I saw the blackbird-clustered face of night. [Donald LaBranche]
No absolution. Spirits, bring me absinthe, [Pamela Joyce S.]
a doleful pour not tasted before. [Charise Hoge]

Could the blackbirds play the role of ravens [Millicent Caliban]
in an empty house, in which I return the thief’s wallet
and then ingest the salt of absolution, [Donald LaBranche]
the final pinch of grass in a sandwich bag? [Stephanie Cohen]

In a blackened crown of night and crows. [Katie R.]
We watched you raving at the wind, wandering
like a street thief in search of unlocked doors, [Pamela Joyce S.]
succumbing in the snow to winter sleep. [Millicent Caliban]

4. This Was Glory, Too
I spent my days in an expanse of spirit,
gave thanks to God for enemies with bad aim, [Jay Ronson]
as snow fell into the trees and blackbirds clustered
thick as leaves on the limbs, glossy shades of night. [Patricia Wallace]

When feathered darkness lifted up her hood
about my head, I saw that this was glory, too; [Christa Overbeck]
returning birds, retreating foes, [Beth Dufford]
the ache you blame on age and episodic sleep. [Stephanie Cohen]

If I could only sleep the length of clouds
and leap the length of August days again,
the snow would melt off blackbirds’ backs and bud [Eric Fretz]
in a blackened crown of night and crows. [Katie R]

How I miss my enemies, like birds in winter! [Dan Bishop]
I spent my spirit in an expanse of days, [Shari Ayers]
then young again, for you, for one fleeting midnight, [Pamela Joyce S.]
I am sovereign of the air-settled world. [Christa Overbeck]

5. In the Temple of Her Trees

I spent my days in an expanse of spirit,
gave thanks to God for enemies with bad aim, [Jay Ronson]
as snow fell into the trees and blackbirds clustered
thick as leaves on the limbs, glossy shades of night. [Patricia Wallace]

When feathered darkness lifted up her hood [Christa Overbeck]
I worshiped in the temple of her trees. [Millicent Caliban]
Blackbirds scattered at the blast. The snow now [Pamela Joyce S.]
about my head, I saw that this was glory, too, [Christa Overbeck]

and shook with cold or fear or joy. I could not tell. [Christa Overbeck]
Come, sing to the snow something new [Donald LaBranche]
amid the shouts of others. The snow my pillow. [J. F. McCullers]
Could the blackbirds play the role of ravens? [Millicent Caliban]

Perhaps make a crown of crows? I shuddered
with the madness of episodic sleep, dreamt
the house emptied of the spirits, their mourning
and my absolution to wait the wake at dawn. [Maureen]

And here is the sonnet that Maureen and Patricia Smith came up with:

A Thick of Blackbirds

I spent my days in an expanse of spirits,
with each cross-boned bottle, dreamt
reality quenched: two children killed—
I ached in feathered darkness.

God, no thanks I gave for episodic sleep,
when hood of night, that temple, lifted
and I, mind weak, saw what I worshipped
rent—not once but twice

as blasts un-wrung from limbs of trees
in snow a thick of blackbirds, mourning
all I too well know.

Not age, not episodic sleep—
remembrance of the two shall linger
eternal in that expanse of spirits.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Diana Ferraro, whose sonnet is identical except for this final stanza, with its glorious last line:

Glossy shades play the role of ravens,
the snow, my pillow, softens, scatters and sings,
looking for glory.

Kudos to all who took part and contributed to an experience that has been intrinsically enjoyable—and that produced a poem worthy of inclusion in any anthology of collaborative poetry.

Next Tuesday, I will present a new challenge for us. Until then, my thanks to all.

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