Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘The Lost Books’ and ‘Figurines,’ by Lucille Lang Day

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The Lost Books

What happened to the books I thought would be
in neat rows in my library forever,
dear old friends who’d rush to comfort me

whenever I was bored or sick or lonely
or vexed by things I wanted to remember?
What happened to the books I thought would be

dependable as stars that come out nightly
and take their places in the Bull or Hunter,
dear old friends who’d always shine on me

as clouds dispersed and I sipped ginger tea?
Why didn’t they tell me it was over?
Where did they go, the books I knew would be

my pals until the end? How did they leave?
En masse? In groups of two or three, no longer
dear old friends with any use for me?

Perhaps I should have come more frequently,
assured them that I cared, just like a lover.
What happened to the books I came to need
like dear old friends one doesn’t often see?

 

Figurines

They seemed old-fashioned when I was a child,
as they curtseyed above the fireplace.
I didn’t like them, but my mother was beguiled

by the way they cocked their heads and softly smiled
in their flowing gowns, ermine muffs and lace.
They seemed old-fashioned when I was a child,

with their parasols, bouquets, blue eyes so mild,
and curls adorning each bone china face.
I didn’t like them, but my mother was beguiled.

I yearned for all things new and free and wild,
not Dinky Do’s and Genevieve’s prim grace.
They seemed old-fashioned when I was a child

From their petticoats to how their hair was styled,
but now I keep them in an oak-trimmed case
in the dining room. My husband’s not beguiled

by the bows and hats and fans I once reviled.
In my home, my mother left her trace
in figurines old-fashioned to a child.
She cherished them, and now I am beguiled.

 

Lucille Lang Day book cover_5-19-16

“The Lost Books” was first published in The Cincinnati Review, and “Figurines” was first published in The Hudson Review. Both poems are from Becoming an Ancestor: Poems (Červená Barva Press 2015) by Lucille Lang Day. Price: $17.00. Published with permission of the press and author. All rights reserved. Order the book here.

 

Lucille Lang Day author photo_5-19-16Lucille Lang Day has published ten poetry collections and chapbooks, most recently Becoming an Ancestor and Dreaming of Sunflowers: Museum Poems, which won the 2014 Blue Light Poetry Prize. She is also co-editor of the anthology Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California, as well as the author of a children’s book, Chain Letter, and a memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story, which received a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award and was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Her poems, short stories, and essays have received nine Pushcart Prize nominations and have appeared widely in such magazines and anthologies as The Cincinnati Review, The Hudson Review, Passages North, Paterson Literary Review, River Styx, Tar River Poetry, ZYZZYVA, and Far Out: Poems of the ‘60s. She received her MA in English and MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University, and her MA in zoology and PhD in science/mathematics education at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, writer Richard Michael Levine. Website: www.lucillelangday.com. Author Photo Credit: Hilary Brodey.

 

Poet’s Note

Most of the time I write in free verse, but for some poems a form such as a villanelle or a sonnet is what feels right to me. Sometimes the poem comes to me in the form (the case with “The Lost Books”), and other times, after writing a free verse version that I consider unsuccessful, I try recasting the poem in a form (what happened with “Figurines”). When the subject matter of a poem is emotionally charged, as it is in “The Lost Books” and “Figurines,” I often find that a form holds that charge better than free verse. In the case of villanelles, I think the insistent repetitions help ensure that the emotional charge is not lost. “The Lost Books” and “Figurines” have more in common than the fact that both are villanelles: both poems are about objects in my house, and both came from a period in my life when I had recently entered into a mid-life marriage and my husband and I were consolidating our households. This consolidation was further complicated by my father’s death, necessitating that we combine the objects from three households into one. Needless to say, we had to get rid of a lot of things! At first my husband wanted me to get rid of my mother’s figurines, but I couldn’t do it. I think the poem helped him understand why. Many of my lost books were probably in a box that was mistakenly sent to the Salvation Army.

 

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  • Susanna Gaertner July 18, 2016 at 10:46 am

    “The Lost Books” brought back–in the sharply cerebral yet also visceral way that is the hallmark of great poems–memories of “cleaning” out my father’s enormous library…the anguish of what to keep, what to donate and where. All that colossal, collected wisdom, gone from the walls…and from my life with my father’s death.
    Your poem evoked, briefly, a painful recollection which was quickly eclipsed by better memories from the time before and after.
    Thank you.

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