Poetry Thursday: Song of Myself

For this week's Poetry Thursday assignment, participants are asked to write a poem from the voice of the "authentic" self. That's a tough fellow for me to unveil. Maybe I've written too many poems, taken on too many voices, given over myself to too many aesthetic tasks, that I end up thinking about what the poem itself necessitates in terms of a voice.

On the other hand, there are times when I do try to be truthful with a voice that feels like my own, and not surprisingly, those times occur when the subject matter is more personal. Since I have been sharing poems from my first and third book, I thought I would go to my second book, nearly Florida, for an example.


My child, in his room, is playing,
and I cannot tell whether he
is laughing or crying, but I will
not stir from my reading, for his joy,

as I imagine, over the leaves
of sycamore we found is his own,
and if his noise is the child’s
grief, that, too, is his own. To be

truthful, I am afraid that I can
no longer restore comfort out of pain.
Still, I know I will seek in the broad
ways whom my soul loves, and I

retrieve one trick I learned young,
so that I do rise and go. I mix
sugar milk and take paper and matches
into his room. Here, I tell him,

I have something to show you. With
the liquid, he traces circles
with his finger upon the paper, and I
lay my hand over his hand, to feel

the movement of what he has in mind.
The circles, I think, become smoother,
rounder, smaller. I say, Okay,
let’s let the paper dry, and

I return to my reading, and he
to his quieter play. And it is fear
again: how a father dreams of
the drowning child he can never save,

the child’s face disappearing
in a swallow of silt, how a father
plays with combustible materials
and their traces — fire and ash — that

will leave nothing but the child’s
tiny bones. It is fear because I know
my son will come to me, asking
if it is ready, and I will have

to say yes. I will light the match
beneath the paper, and from nothing
will appear maybe something like a face,
something like my own face,

fevered, blistered, blackening faster
than the paper, or the design becomes
my child’s face in a cry or a laugh,
calling out someone else’s name.


michelle said…
i really love that last image of the flaming face.

this is beautiful. you've captured this sense of fear in fatherhood/parenthood, fear that what if one day parents
"can / no longer restore comfort out of pain"
and your child will
"[call] out someone else’s name."
Michelle Fry said…
It's the vulnerability in this poem that makes it great.
Anonymous said…
I am feeling "kindred" with you again. This prompt was tough for me also...and I also wrote about an experience with my child.

Your poem is so lovely. The image of joy or grief...allowing it to be his...yet, not able to step away. This is a beautiful image..

Just an aside...I live outside Denver...and my husband and I were just talking about the Peace Jam...saying our older daughter belonged there....If she was a bit older..she may have met your son...cool huh???
Catherine said…
That's just wonderful - isn't it the truth of it, that our children are so separate from us and there is so little we can do for their grief or joy.
I love the image of the child calling someone else's name.
jzr said…
Wow! Beautifully written ... vulnerable ... fearful. thank you!
Beloved dreamer said…
A little of the past mixed with a little of what could be. Does the father see the man within the child and see his own face?
Very nicely done. Beautiful.
Anonymous said…
Jim, I learn so much when I come to your blog. For instance, I didn't know sugar milk doesn't burn. You are a wealth of information!

Lovely, lovely. This is one of those pieces that I imagine you read often, or get requests from poetry audiences to hear. Love the stanzas, the 8-9 syllable lines--imposing a structure allows the narrator to control the fear, in my opinion.

Hmmm, this would make a nice poem to post with Audioblogger.
susanlavonne said…
Your poem reminds me that often the more vulnerable and "authentic" we become, the more apt others are to empathize with our experience.
This one will continue to haunt me...in a good way, that is :-)
bb said…
this poem terrifies me - so you must be doing something right!
Tammy said…
I loved seeing the soft side of you :) Excellent!
Verity said…
Tenderness and truth, your words illuminate and move me yet again.
LJCohen said…
Jim--this poem simply blew me away--the raw honesty and vulnerability you express. Fabulous writing.

Anonymous said…
smells of rawness and originality come out of your this beautiful work!
liz elayne said…
this is one i would love to hear you read. the gentle way the words flow...the images created...the truth mingled with love and what seems like yearning.

thank you for sharing this one...
jim said…

Yes, it is terrifying, especially the sense of what we do teach our children, what we leave behind, really is frightening.

January and Liz:

I'll make it a mini-project to do an audio-blog of this poem. Forthcoming!


My son had an amazing time at PeaceJam--I think he'll be absorbing it for years and years.


I'm marshmallowy soft.

And thanks to all for your thoughts. I'll be spending this weekend getting caught up with my blog reading, and so I'll be visiting!
twitches said…
Whoo - this is truly beautiful. Full of geniune and touching emotion.
Natalie said…
Great poem Jim. As usual beautiful to read with it's rhythmic motion, and i resonate with the vulnerability of it also. Thanks.
gkgirl said…
i thoroughly enjoyed
this one...
i agree with what
another commenter said
about it being the
that makes it so intriguing...
and also
i felt a sense of
something else...
of something a little bit
but thats me...
dark and twisty...
jillypoet said…
Wow! The whole idea of trying something unknown with your child, be it an "invivible drawing," or the way you raise them (so often "unknown") and just waiting to see the outcome. You captured it. You captured what, for me, is one of the hardest parts of parenting...when to step in, when to step back, and what to expect in moments or years to come. Thanks for such a great poem!