Monday, October 12, 2009

Donald Justice (II)

This poem ought to be a failure. Rather than building toward a coherent whole, it is rather inert and meandering and ends by fizzling off into that ultimate of compositional cop-outs: ellipses.

And yet this poem has stayed with me, provoking some indefinable but definite response. I suppose it’s reassuring that some poems defy my best attempts to formulate a coherent poetics.

Thinking about the Past

Certain moments will never change nor stop being –
My mother’s face all smiles, all wrinkles soon;
The rock wall building, built, collapsed then, fallen;
Our upright loosening downward slowly out of tune –
All fixed into place now, all rhyming with each other.
That red-haired girl with wide mouth – Eleanor –
Forgotten thirty years – her freckled shoulders, hands.
The breast of Mary Something, freed from a white swimsuit,
Damp, sandy, warm; or Margery’s, a small caught bird –
Darkness they rise from, darkness they sink back toward.
O marvelous early cigarettes! O bitter smoke, Benton!
And Kenny in wartime whites, crisp, cocky,
Time a bow bent with his certain failure.
Dusks, dawns; waves; the end of songs. . .

Donald Justice (I) is here.


  1. I've always been partial to Donald Justice's "Poem." Though it is problematically titled for those wishing to find it via web search without the author's name, and every web version I've found seems to have a typo in the second-to-last stanza, substituting "forge" for "forget." I don't think I'll forge the poem before it has forgotten me.

    I suppose I get the same indefinable response from "Poem" that is mentioned, above. Justice seems interested in the transience of things, so it's possible that this feeling is a mark of his success in expressing his message.

    Thanks for this blog. I enjoy your insights and recommendations, both literary and culinary.

  2. I know the one you mean, and I also love it. I'm always thinking Mark Strand is the author and not Donald Justice ... it seems tonally more Strand-ish to me.

    I might have just give myself an idea for the next poetry post.

    Thanks for commenting! It's nice to have readers. :)