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Thursday, April 16, 2009

SEARCHER: PUSHCART NOMINEE





Here are the first 2 poems from "Searcher," nominated by Asheville Poetry Review for a Pushcart Prize. To read the rest of the poem, go to the journal, which is full of reviews, interviews, and poems. Encourage your local bookstore to carry it or subcribe to it yourself. You may find its information online or by going to "My Laureate's Lasso" where I have a post featuring its current issue. the link is given on the sidebar.

I became fascinated by the role of such a "Searcher," after reading the entry below in the Forgotten English Daily Calendar that I give my husband every year. It seemed such a gruesome job, yet one that a woman might have needed in order to survive. What would her reaction have been to her numerous encounters with death? The poem began in my head a day or two after brooding over this entry. The subject is dark, and one I would probably not have taken on if I hadn't been haunted by the following description.

SEARCHER

A woman employed to inspect the dress of a corpse, to ascertain whether the law for the protection of the woolen trade had been violated by robing the body in any other material.

--Anne Baker’s Glossary of Northhamptonshire Words and
Phrases, 1854





1.

You might expect children to be what
I most dread, but I fear the women
whom age has already begun to lay waste,
loosening their neck skin like hosiery
falling undone round an old woman’s
ankles, the first thing I see
when I bend to examine their burial
garments. I know all too well
how the underneath fastenings begin
to give way, the breasts sagging
onto the belly, the belly gone slack
as a haversack emptied. So there they lie,
summer or winter, in good English wool.
I inspect the dress, sometimes
no more than a nightgown, other times
well stitched with simple embroidery
over the bodice, a few tiny shell buttons.
All that’s allowed, if there’s wool underneath
such embellishment. The grave’s cold
beyond our poor souls’ comprehension,
so they should be glad of a garment
that’s woven of earth’s warmest fiber--
what always I say to the grieving.
And yet the grave leaks! This I know well
from seeing my mother dislodged when
the creek flooded. Wet wool clings fast
to the flesh, but their dead flesh feels
naught anymore, so that I lose no sleep
brooding over how well or poorly
the dead sleep beneath us.
Just once did I hesitate,
over a newborn still wrapped
in the slightest batiste,
no doubt brought from the continent,
asking myself if I dared let this
baby go down to his rest in some French
cloth his mother had pieced into swaddling.
I needed this post. I had children myself
and a husband gone wandering.
But watching that woman unwrapping
those limbs yet again and beholding
the knotted fists, fingernails blue
as the first April violets...then wrapping
that flesh of her flesh with the rough wool
I carry to punish such lawlessness....
No, I did not wonder if, every night after,
she felt her skin chafe as she lay beside
her man, clutching the blanket I made her unwind.
I have learned how to make myself sleep
as the dead sleep,
beyond dreams,
beyond any need for forgetting.



2.

Do I wake
when a flaws of wind
rouses the chimney,
asking myself if I too
can feel wool rubbing
over my breasts
or my thighs?


I do not wake
till either the first light
or birdsong
rouses me. Wind
never shakes
me now. I am not
shaken by earthly
gusts. God’s breath

I dare not consider,
the hot or
the cold of it. No need
to worry its path
till the time comes,
the wheat grass will
part where He wishes
it, stooking will blaze
up where he sets his

eye. At the last
trump the bodies
whose shrouds
I have sanctioned
will rise up and
stumble away through
the dust, dressed for

journeying over
a muddy world coming
undone, dressed
for God’s breath if
it be like ice, dressed for
wind that would blow their
poor bones to the ends
of the known world
if not for those dumb
creatures shorn when
the earth was still ours
and we labored all day
at our spinning wheels
or at our looms where
the shuttles flew back and
forth over the warping.

6 comments:

Vicki Lane said...

Oh Kay! This is MAGNIFICENT!

I'll be subscribing to the APR soonest.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Vicki, you are just flat-out special. I'm so glad we met at Lake Logan. I was nervous about posting this--the subject matter, you know. But I especially hoped you might like it, and now I feel fat with gratitude. (well, I've been feeling fat today anyway...but I won't go there.)
I hope your cold is better. K.

Vicki Lane said...

The subject matter is wonderful! I knew the Brits were protective of their wool trade but had no idea it went this far.

"Fingernails blue as the first April violet . . " what a line!

I'm eager to read the rest.

Jane said...

I read this right before I went to bed and couldn't get it off my mind. Kay, this is so marvelous! I always expect wonderful poetry, but the subject matter is so grim. I had no idea the wool trade was so controlled. This voice kicks butt. BTW, Miss Lisa is arriving this evening to spend a few days. I can't wait to show her this.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Jane, please give Lisa a hug for me! I'd love to see new poetry from both of you. K.

徵信社 said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.
謝謝你的文章分享,請你有空到我

參觀,Thanks