Letters Upon an Arc of White

This is a chain of poems composed in the comment thread to yesterday’s Morning Porch entry. Pittsburgh-based poet and master of enigma of Bob BrueckL started us off — inadvertently, I think — with a poem about the letter A in response to Luisa Igloria’s poem in response to my entry. Luisa followed with poems about B and C, at which point I jumped in and continued down the alphabet. We keep adding to it throughout the day and into the evening, with interruptions to fix supper and the like. In what follows, I have done only a bare minimum of editing, and have chosen only one poem for each letter — there were a few for which we each wrote one. The original thread is also worth checking out for the contributions of regular Morning Porch poet-commenter Albert Casuga, which were in a slightly different spirit but also fun, and one contribution from late-comer Barbara Case.

A.
What is A?
A is A.
It opens, non-
blurry mercy,
thricely.

*

And B.
B curls twice
into itself.
Small
mercies — it tucks
the corners into bed.

*

C?
I miss
you already;
should have kept
my arms closed.

*

D
isn’t D
prived of
another half.
Its smile is full,
its single string
is taut with D
light.

*

E, so regal
in upper case,
it’s easy to forget
how the commonest letters
can close their fists.

*

F
I combed
the seashells
out of my hair,
would my songs
change?

*

G
Gravitas is
the gooseneck lamp
above the foldout desk,
the grizzled poet poring
over goldenrods or
geraniums.

*

H,
how I learned to hate
that chair in the hall!

*

I
stare
at my
paperwhite
reflection, my
starry
I

*

J
hides
in my I
and waits to be baited.

*

K
Kisses
go straight
to the
point.

*

L
begins with E—
like F, except
it keeps what F loses
and thus becomes
so much lovelier.

*

M
Primal letter MA
with her mountains
of milk.

*

N
When
was the last
time I clambered
up a slide and
rode it, rapid
down— which
seemed
up?

*

O
the moon
approves
all round
and endless
pleasures.

*

P
plays tennis
on the side.

*

Q
Shy,
left-
behind
one,
you make
a quiet
coda
to this
parade.

*

R
Half rebus,
half hieroglyph,
hoisting its one
good wing.

*

S
We were both lost,
though heading in
opposite directions.
“Have you seen my white eye?”
“Have you seen my black?”

*

T
Tell me
one
clear
thing
I’d like
to hear
not two-
way signals
tilting in
the wind.

*

U
Upturned
like a mouth,
like a well
under the stars;
upended,
umbrella
deflecting
asterisks
and commas.

*

V
In the anatomy
of the ear, this is
the part called
the chantarelle.

*

W
Window shaded
with accordion pleats—
wistful is the one
who leans out;
watercolors in the distance.

*

X
Whenever the numbers
go on strike,
here’s your scab:
four strong limbs
ready for any value.
No pesky head.

*

Y
I yield
to you
as to warmer
wind— the two
top buttons
come undone.

*

Z
We glide
from one axis
to another,
in order to
begin again,
defying
zero.

***

Bob BrueckL: A
Luisa A. Igloria: B, C, F, G, I, K, N, O, Q, T, U, W, Y, Z
Dave Bonta: D, E, H, J, L, M, P, R, S, V, X

9 Comments


  1. This would go so well with my stages-of-metaphor lessons. As it is, I use Sylvia Plath’s poem “Metaphor” to have the kids experience each stage (1. the literal stage: disorienting. 2. The realization stage: it’s a metaphor! Whew. 3. The deeper understanding stage: seeing the poem’s object in new ways.). (I invented the stages. I hope it’s true; I teach it with as much certitude as my wife does in teaching the water cycle.)

    The kids almost never get what Plath is talking about. When I finally tell them she’s pregnant and about ready to deliver, they’re in stage two. Then, without saying more, I have them discuss in groups what each line means. In the process, they discover that they get a deeper appreciation for what it’s like to be pregnant. And there are no mothers in the room to point out that we can never know what it’s like short of being mothers ourselves.

    So I would remove the letter designation on your poems, maybe make some poems’ associations with their letters less obvious, cut the poems into separate cards, shuffle them, and have them try in groups of four to put them in alphabetical order. When they’re done, I’d come up with some activity to have them share what they’ve learned about some of the letters.

    May I have your permission to do that?

    I was also struck by how your collaboration in writing this chain of poems resembles the collaboration involved in writing the Federalist Papers with respect, at least, to the relative proportion written by each of its three contributors:

    John Jay (5 articles: 2–5 and 64)
    Alexander Hamilton (51 articles: nos. 1, 6–9, 11–13, 15–17, 21–36, 59–61, and 65–85)
    James Madison (26 articles: nos. 10, 14, 37–58 and 62–63)

    Reply

    1. You’re free to use my contributions to the series however you want under the terms of my CC licence, which would certainly permit that sort of thing. I can’t speak for Luisa and Bob. (9th graders might also appreciate my poem about F, not included here, if it isn’t too risqué.)

      I’m flattered by your enthusiasm for the chain, but I think comparing our parlor game (Marly Youman’s term, but I think she’s right) to the Federalist Papers is just a bit of a stretch! But perhaps Madison, like me, found himself struggling to keep pace with a brainier colleague.

      Reply

      1. Exclamatory comments:

        1.
        Parlor games are fun!

        2.
        The Federalist Papers! I love that!

        3.
        It makes a great little sequence, and I like the way Peter is turning it into a further game (!)

        Reply

  2. Dave asked me for a title suggestion and I thought of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “The Spider” (#27) — hence, “Letters Upon an Arc of White”; here is Dickinson’s poem:

    A spider sewed at night
    Without a light
    Upon an arc of white.
    If ruff it was of dame
    Or shroud of gnome,
    Himself, himself inform.
    Of immortality
    His strategy
    Was physiognomy.

    Reply

    1. Peter will have to make an arc of white to hang those comments from…

      Seems so natural to think of Miss Compression-and-Surprise for a title.

      Reply

  3. chanterelle…Cantharellus cibarius is misspelled.

    Reply

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