This week’s poem, “Necessities” is from Rusty Morrison’s book, Beyond the Chainlink, a finalist for the 2015 Northern California Book Award. As one of the readers for those awards, I wrote the following description for the Awards Ceremony program:

“How to carry water in a sieve? Ensnare air? Contain and express the subtle complexities of a life—past, present and future—held in the fragile vessel of living consciousness? It cannot be done, of course, but that does not prevent Morrison from trying, in amazingly conceived and executed poems caught in a fretwork as complex and rhythmic as a sestina or the movement of tide or moon. We are pattern-seeking animals, Robert Hass tells us, trying to impose order on the explosive, burgeoning chaos of all we experience through our five senses. Such patterns, like a chain link fence, only temporarily stay entropy and usually can’t be built without breaking a few petals or wings. But here, in structure as tough, delicate, and invisible as a spider’s web and like a web constantly evolving, Morrison holds poems of almost unbearable delicacy of perception and feeling.”

These qualities are exemplified in the poem below, one of several in the book that bear the title “Necessities.” The poem opens with an image that harnesses personification and pathetic fallacy: the sky “dons” a “white smock,” equated through metaphor into an “awareness” that the reader “shares” with the sky. With these poetic devices—image, personification, metaphor—those first three lines, spare as they are, do a tremendous amount of work.

The image of a garment is carried into the second stanza where the speaker tells us what the  awareness is: “nothing is required of” her, and that for her it “is a hand-knit never-finished / astonishment.” The use of a concrete, homespun object to describe an abstract exulted feeling is surprising to the reader, just as the feeling of astonishment is surprising and fresh to the speaker. Another reason the image feels so apt is that Morrison ties it (through the linked image of the “white smock”) to something larger and more grandiose and something we are more likely to associate with astonishment, the sky.

I read these lines as the speaker capturing a rare moment of stillness, a moment when no one is calling or emailing or asking her to do anything, in the context of our modern, overly-busy lives. In such a moment the speaker is able to find a “stillness” rich with meaning and empathy and a “calm” so pervasive that in it “silence unspools its silk.”

Have you ever read a poem and felt it was talking directly to or was written about you? To me this is one of the hallmarks of a great poem. Regardless of what Morrison intended, for me this poem is about finding—in the middle of a hectic day in a hectic life—a moment of deep stillness. And about how such moments nourish and allow us to experience silence and to rediscover a place from which creativity can emerge. Just the act of reading this poem recreates in me that sense of stillness, or at least the memory of having felt it once. Such moments are not just for pleasure—they are crucial to the act of creation and “necessities” in the life of any artist. And if you believe that everyone is the artist who creates their own life, then they are also necessities of living.

 —Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

 

Necessities

Sky, this morning, is donning its white smock.
An awareness that I can see we share,
though we each
wear it differently.

Nothing required of me,
which is a hand-knit never-finished
astonishment.

Stillness extends its meaning to encompass
even the oak branches’ moving leaves.

Saturated with calm, my silence unspools its silk.

 

From Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta Press, 2014) and reprinted with permission of the press. All rights reserved.

 

Rusty Morrison_6-18-15Rusty Morrison is the author of five books, including Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta), After Urgency (Tupelo’s Dorset Prize), the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta), which won The Sawtooth Prize, the Academy of American Poet’s Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, and the DiCastagnola Award. Recent poems have appeared in A Public Space, Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, PEN Poetry Series. Morrison is co-publisher of Omnidawn Press, omnidawn.com, and her website is rustymorrison.com.

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  • Meryl Natchez August 17, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Lovely! Silence unspooling in me now.

    Reply
  • Julia Levine August 17, 2015 at 5:04 am

    I don’t know which I like more- the beautiful poem or Rebecca’s commentary. Thank u!

    Reply