...grief, leaving us...

2:42 PM Posted by James Owens


Lost for Words

Slugs trace odd glyphs on the concrete walk.
Grandma had us sprinkle table salt on her porch
to discourage any messages from the other side.

Mornings now, when fog’s suspension drags a sheet
across the world’s view, I cipher curlicues
for word from you. But perhaps slugs, like angels,

have no word for grief, leaving us
to draft every horrible script.
These last hard years, frost’s

innumerable marigold corpses, blackened rose petals
offered up by February’s unexpected thaw, draw
the slugs out from their dens beneath the steps.

Rufus Skeens
(published here for the first time)


Rufus Skeens is a poet of elegy with a penchant for noticing those moments when the day grows thin and the worlds nudge closer to each other, exchanging flashes of dark light, or – maybe, maybe not – messages in the tracks slugs leave on a concrete walk. At the same time, Skeens never loses contact with the world around him, as evidenced in the precision and music of his language. No poet has a better instinct for the shape and texture of words in the mouth.

Mostly, I want to let the poem speak for itself. It does not need my help. But I have to say that I love the ending. Understated and quiet, in touch with the earth, there is still an eerie stir of spirits from the underworld going on in the shadows beneath those steps.

Another poem online:

Red River Review



sam of the ten thousand things said...

I've been reading Oliver's Red Bird, and Rufus' poem is listening to the same world - hard-edged, alive, penetrating, and particular.

Such powerful phrasing:

...perhaps slugs, like angels,

have no word for grief, leaving us
to draft every horrible script.

Lines to envy. Thanks for posting Rufus' work.

Roxana said...

it is a beautiful poem, James. I agree with you about the ending, I love the way colours combine to lure the outerworld (underworld) into our reality. gold and red petals, yet blackend now, as if our time had already been touched by the breath of those ambiguous spirits.
and yet I love this line too: But perhaps slugs, like angels,

have no word for grief,

Sam is right, a perfect line that every poet could envy.

I am happy to have been able to read this poem here. thank you.

James Owens said...

Sam and Roxana: Thank you for these comments. You both pay special attention to the lines beginning "Perhaps slugs, like angels...." and I love those lines, too. It reminds me of the biblical description of humanity as a little higher than the animals and "a little lower than the angels." In the realms above and below us, our pain wouldn't make any sense. But we are here, thrown as we are into the midst of mysterious and ambiguous forces, in our lostness and the hollow ache of an unfulfilled search for meaning --- which is also our humanity. The poem, though --- as I think Rufus might understand --- speaks its own sort of meaning into existence, a wonder, out of ambiguity and brokenness.

William Cook said...

"I cipher curlicues for word from you" - Love it! Such a great poem - so evocative and melancholic (my favorite type). Thanks for posting.