So many words to say now he'll never say though
he feels their weight in silence, though he needs
their meanings, he knows he won't find them,
still they bite at his tongue – what he once questioned
he knows for fact, what he once believed, he's long since
forgotten or dreamed away – if you whisper your truths,
they'll disappear, he'd say, so he never whispers them –
and when he does speak, his voice is the wild thud
of trees falling, oceans from here in cool shimmers
of rain, in the hot curl of asphalt, in all the time needed
though there's so little now to do, and he's prayed deep
into the hole of his aching, but that's not how it ends –
in a hush, in the beetle's scratching at the baseboard,
a bullfrog's croaking from the dark rocks in his pond,
his cane leaning against the opened window
Editor: Michelle Elvy
I've come to appreciate Sam Rasnake's poetry over the last several years, and this poem, to me, exemplifies the way he balances the personal and the universal. I asked him about this, and I'm pleased to put his response here, in full. Like Rasnake's poetry, his commentary is both thoughtful and truthful.
ELVY: One of the things I always admire in your poetry is that you seem to achieve a specificity of place and mood with a more universal appeal to intellect and emotion. I wonder if you can comment on this, the way it captures specific details but also contains elements of language and humanity that reach a wide audience. How do you balance the specifics with the universality of poetry -- both of which are, perhaps, vital?
RASNAKE: In my work the balance is already in place when the poem begins to take shape in its voice stage, which is always in the beginning. I say my lines before I write them. The sound of the lines, syntax, and phrasing is how the poem arrives. Voice is the foundation. If I’m true to the voice in listening to the beginning stage of each poem, the work will be more personal. The more personal the work, the more universal the scope. That is, of course, if I’m allowing the work to be what is intended – what the work is, and not what I may want it to be or even what I think it should be.
'Truth' in my writing, at least as I understand it, is not in factual information. That doesn’t interest me at all, so that is one of the reasons why the works find me as they do. The writing finds me. I do not find it, nor do I search for it. There are certainly emotional, psychological, and spiritual truths that are far more vital than mere facts. For example, the truth in “Some Last Things” is not bound by factual detail even though the specifics in the poem are image-driven. I think the poem is quite visual. The closing lines --
in a hush, in the beetle’s scratching at the baseboard,
a bullfrog’s croaking from the dark rocks in his pond,
his cane leaning against the opened window
-- are true in the poem though they only brush against the facts in my life. The opened window at the end is based on the real window in my parents’ den that is above a pond my father built beside the house, but the window has never been opened since that room was built. The frogs can still be heard and are always present in their enemy stance against the coy and goldfish that live in the pond. The beetle’s scratching is a striking metaphor that I never heard there but was necessary to the closing of the poem. That line is the finishing touch to the poem’s dark tone. My father who loved to work with wood made his own canes. He leaned his canes throughout his house, but never placed one against the wall below that specific window. But, there’s an emotional truth in placing the cane against the den window that is more real and true to the poem than if another wall – an actual moment in his or my life -- had been used. My favorite part of this poem is that final line. In the line, the cane is already in place, but its silence in resting there must show the quiet tap of the cane’s handle touching wood. That sound is outside the poem though it certainly impacts the poem.
I wrote this poem before my father died. He struggled against bone cancer for several years. My connection to the poem is envisioning the silence of his death which I knew was coming. Maybe that is the reason the poem ends with the sounds taking place and the action of a cane’s leaning – forever in the poem – against the window.
Thinking about that closing image just now, I feel a sense of relief. The moment is not closed, but is open to me, and will remain so. That, most likely, is the reason the poem came to me in the first place. I’m glad I listened. I like very little of my work, but this poem is one of the few satisfactory writing moments I’ve ever had.
Sam Rasnake’s works, receiving five nominations for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in OCHO, Wigleaf, Big Muddy,Literal Latté, Poem, Pebble Lake Review, Poets/Artists, New World Writing, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature,Santa Fe Literary Review, as well as the anthologies MiPOesias Companion 2012, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Best of the Web 2009, LUMMOX 2012, Flash Fiction Fridays, BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2, Deep River Apartments, The Lost Children, and Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2011.
Rasnake is the author of Necessary Motions (Sow’s Ear Press, 1998), Religions of the Blood (Pudding House Press, 1998), Lessons in Morphology (GOSS183, 2010) and Inside a Broken Clock (Finishing Line Press, 2010). His latest collection, Cinéma Vérité, is forthcoming from A Minor Press later in 2013.
Rasnake is chapbook editor for Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and has served as a judge for the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, University of California, Berkeley, and from 2001-2010 was editor of Blue Fifth Review. Since 2011, Rasnake has edited, along with Michelle Elvy, the Blue Five Notebook Series from Bluefifth Review.
Once you've read Sam Rasnake, climb aboard the other Tuesday Poets in the sidebar.
The Tuesday Poem editor this week is Michelle Elvy. You can find Michelle this month in the mosh pit at FLASH MOB 2013 (one day left to submit, folks!), or more formally offering assistance at New Zealand's National Flash Fiction Day, or enjoying poetry and flash at Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier. You can also find her at Glow Worm.