white fire

11:09 PM Posted by James Owens


Like a clutch of wet leaves
kicked up in the snow
on the path beside the swamp.
Ice frozen to its sides
he couldn’t brush clean.
Eyes frozen to blind shards.
Trembling. --- He left it there,
but all day, he feels
it dying, an amputation
hugged to his chest,
a sleeve in the wind,
soft with ghost pain.
This will happen to some of us.
A spark misfires
in the hibernating brain,
and you wake to the wrong season.
Born again from the nourishing,
amniotic mud, ready
to thrum with love
for the day---
you crawl into
a stunned world
of inconceivable white fire.


Lady Jo said...

Bonjour James,

Morte de froid la salamandre ???
le traducteur est peu fiable...
Bonne journée James.

colleen said...

Beautiful yet sad.

James Owens said...

Lady Jo: Elle est morte, je crois. Je l’ai couverte de feuilles dans l‘abri d‘un arbre creux, mais ce n’était pas assez, j’en suis certain. Vraiment, il n’y avait rien à faire.

Je te propose cette tentative d’une traduction. Mon français n’est pas assez bon pour que cela soit un vrai poème -- mais quand même c’est meilleure que la version de google translate, j’espère….

Une Salamandre

Telle une poignée de feuilles mouillées
qu’un pied a froisiée dans la neige
sur le sentier auprès du marais.
Les cotés gelés
qu’on ne pouvait pas liberer de la glace.
Les yeux gelés de tessons aveugles.
Elle tremblait. -- Il l’a lasisée,
mais toute la journée, il sent
sa mort, une amputation
qu’il porte serrée dans les bras,
une manche au vent,
douce avec de la douleur fantôme.
Cela arrivera à certains parmi nous.
Un circuit échoue
dans le cerveau en hibernation,
et l’on s’éveille
à la mauvaise saison.
René de la boue nourrissante
amniotique, prêt
à vibrer avec de l’amour
pour le jour ---
on rampe dans
un monde ébloui
de feu blanc inconcevable.

James Owens said...

Colleen: I try not to be sad about things like this ... I suppose it's natural ... but sometimes....

veredit said...

Oh my God, this is so sad. I can always put up very badly, although I know that it is the way of nature. But to be affected, is a human quality, and I'll take away from anyone. Your poem is just wonderful!


Sorlil said...

I really like this. This part -
'but all day, he feels
it dying, an amputation
hugged to his chest' I think is wonderful,
and the 'ready / to thrum with love' - I love the word 'thrum' here.
The pictures are beautiful also.

Roxana said...

it's hard not to cry when seeing her frozen skin over the deep lines running in your palm - time engulfing everything, what else is there to say?

yet the poet finds words. the words. and when i read: "you crawl into
a stunned world
of inconceivable white fire."

i feel that, for a second, maybe longer, a reconciliation is possible - with time and what it does to us. with the absurd of that spark and the inevitable failure of our gesture of help. of any gesture.

S. Etole said...

something none of us long for ...

James Owens said...

Isabella: Thank you for bringing this warmth and compassion here to this space. "The way of nature," yes -- and I think of all the times this kind of thing must happen when we are not looking -- these little dramas that shimmer for moment in the quiet, then are gone....

James Owens said...

Sorlil: Thank you. See, I told you there would be poems coming soon -- I like "thrum", too :-)

James Owens said...

Roxana: Our perpetual interrogation of the loses of time :-) ... All time is irredeemable, and it swallows every gesture ... but there are also moments in the sunlit garden...

James Owens said...

Susan: No, none of us ... and I feel a little guilt, you know, making use of this little one's death....

Lady Jo said...

Merci pour la traduction James !
Ainsi va la vie...

Anna said...

Wow James this is sad. Waking up in the wrong season, funny you said that, but I saw bush in the neighborhood that was budding - I guess el nino hit us this year. Excellent post again. James keep those creative juices going, I like your posts. Anna :)

James Owens said...

Lady Jo: You’re welcome. Je me suis joui de faire cette traduction. Maintenant, en la relisant, je trouve des erreurs … néanmoins, je préfère l’essayer, plutôt que ne pas essayer…. Une bonne semaine à toi!

James Owens said...

Anna: Yes, things like this -- my salamander, your bush budding early -- seem to happen more and more often ... I don't know why ... Creative juices? :-) Maybe soon the sping will get them moving like sap ...

Renee said...

Poor little guy. :-( What became of him?

James Owens said...

Renee: I left him in a hollow tree, out of the snow, and covered with dry fallen leaves. I can’t imagine that really helped, but it is a natural response, trying to do something, even when we probably shouldn’t interfere.... Hello, and you are very welcome to my blog!

chrome3d said...

You were meant to find that.

James Owens said...

Chrome: Perhaps you are right...

Gigi said...

This is a wonderful poem, James. That idea of waking up to the wrong season is powerful and sad--the inconceivable white fire he faced. As I read your responses to people's comments, it made me think of all the small birds and other creatures I've tried to save over the years. You are right. It's this impulse we feel in the face of suffering and death. I often wonder if it has to do with a fear of my own death more than the creature's, but it is palpable and intense all the same.

Thanks for your recent lovely comments over at my blog. I know what you mean about cummings. I hadn't read him in a long time, and then I went through several of his poems over the weekend, marveling at his use of form.

James Owens said...

Gigi: I’m certain that this impulse does have a lot to do with our fear of our own death. We understand, deep down, that we living things all share something, and that any loss is somehow a loss for all of us. Or maybe it is less noble than that: we simply hope that, one day when the situation is reversed (as it will be), somebody will be willing to help.

I’ve been going back and looking at Cummings since you posted his poem. You’re right, he has an amazing sense of form -- innovative, but soaked in his precise understanding of the tradition. When the very young read Cummings (I read him when I was a teenager, and I think that is a pretty common experience), they only see the innovation, the playing around with the visual field, without perceiving how this relates to the larger body of poetry in English. Also, I think Cummings is easy to neglect because he is so completely sui generis -- not part of any school, leaving few (no?) competent imitators behind....

Gigi said...

Yes, you hit the nail on the head with Cummings. Students see only that he breaks the rules; it takes time for them to understand the formal aspects of his work and the deep understanding he had of his craft and tradition. Sadly, they too often read him without enough knowledge about poetic form to realize that his use of form, while groundbreaking, was steeped in the tradition. So often, his poems are used as an example of the idea "anything goes" in poetry. Sigh.

James Owens said...

Gigi: I sympathize with that sigh. Students mostly believe that any sort of formal discipline is an affront to their freedom of self-expression. And, as you say, they see in Cummings only this breaking of “the rules,” without realizing that he could break them so well only because he knew them so well (and loved them, that's the key!). And students don’t read. Why is that? Why would someone want to write poetry, when they don’t even like to read poetry? I’ve met MFA students who have only the vaguest idea what a sonnet is…. There, that’s my mini-rant for the day. Sigh.

Rakib Islam said...

i'll nit get into the details of ethics and aesthetics.
You weave words real nice.
keep it coming:-)

James Owens said...

Rakib: Thank you for visiting and for your comment.