Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “Wind Gusts,” by Sharon Coleman

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

I wrote this introduction after walking home from an afternoon spent at Musée de la Résistance in Lyons, France. Temperatures the day before exceeded 100 degrees, making the trip by metro to a nearby lake almost not worth the relief when I finally got into the water. But on this day, I welcomed the chance to make the half hour walk to and from the museum under a sky that promised rain. As I walked back along the banks of the Rhone River, the wind turned my umbrella inside out, and I was pelted by large, cold drops of rain.

I’d read “Wind Gusts” by Sharon Coleman a few hours before and had been thinking about it all day. Why “gusts” of wind, I wondered? How are gusts different from other kinds of wind. For example, France’s famous continuous mistral said to drive men mad? Or from the light puffs of air that filled my sail the day before on Lake Mirabelle? A gust is sudden, and it changes things. On a sailboat, it swings the boom so that the boat comes about or jibes and turns in the opposite direction. During my walk, the gusts on the quai blew with enough force to startle me. They were also exhilarating. Gusts come without warning, then, with considerable force. And they change things.

This poem is a lyric-narrative hybrid, telling a story at the same time it expresses a moment of deeply felt emotion. It is also an elegy, a song of mourning for or homage to the departed beloved, a familiar poetic genre. Unlike many conventional elegies, Coleman’s is unrhymed and unmetered free verse. Every poem is its own form, even poems not written in what we call “received” forms, and you can be sure that the decision to write this poem in this deceptively “free” way was the result of artistic decisions weighed carefully by the author.

Wind is a central image, not the monotonous mistral of southern France, but a wind that “bolts” and blows erratically. So, the poem’s form, or apparent eschewal of form mimics its subject. At its core is a memory of the time the speaker felt buffeted emotionally by a “windblown childhood” and literally by cars whizzing by the median strip on which she stands, steadied by her friend. Interestingly, what steadies her are words that undermine belief: how do you know that’s true? In this poem what is left out matters as much or more as what is said, and the reader must infer what belief could be so terrible that its undermining provides comfort.

Why has Coleman chosen not to use capital letters, particularly in the use of the first person? e.e. cummings was not the first poet to eschew capitalization of “I” and other words normally presented in upper case but he is perhaps the most well-known in our time. Here, use of the lower case “i” suggests the ways in which the speaker felt powerless in her childhood and now feels diminished by the loss of her beloved. It also makes a gesture of homage and humility toward the person elegized. Coleman trains the lens on the beloved in other ways too, like naming her in the epigraph, quoting her verbatim in the twice-repeated question, and centering the poem on that tender memory of the speaker clinging to her on a median, breathless with the knowledge that embracing the wind gusts in life—questioning everything one believes—can be its own form of solace.

 

wind gusts                                              

               for Lili Frances Roxane Fooks

between two double lanes of cars on a traffic island
we stood safe as wind gusts rippled your skirt
flew my hair wild. i had just left behind
a windblown childhood, moved inland,
chose words to steady my feet upon ground
until wind gusts felt like home. your arms wrapped
me close. as always you’d ask how do you know
that’s true? then laugh into the bolting air.

now i lie awake as hot air collides with cold.
and i listen to gusts you’d let blow through you.
now wind rips our worlds apart. now you sleep
beneath southern hills. and nobody asks
how do you know that’s true.

First published in the Tule Review.

 

Coleman_8-15-15Sharon Coleman is a fifth generation Northern Californian with a penchant for learning languages and their entangled word roots. She co-curates the reading series “Lyrics & Dirges,” co-directs the Berkeley Poetry Festival, and teaches at Berkeley City College. Her chapbook Half Circle came out in 2013. Twice nominated for a Pushcart, Coleman’s poetry recently appears in Rivet, Clade Song, Ambush Review, riverbabble, Berkeley Poetry Review, Paterson Literary Review, and Tule Review.

 

 

 

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  • Dorothy Ciarlo September 13, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I like the poems you select and your discussion of them. But I always wish you would print the poem first, then your discussion. I like to have my own reaction to a poem before reading someone else’s, then it is more like a discussion rather than a lecture.
    Thank you for reading this.

    Reply
  • Mary Anne Morefield September 13, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Hi Becky,
    Marian Dornell sent this to me in celebration of the wedding anniversary we share. My husband has died. Fortunately her Eddie still lives.
    Your piece is insightful. Thank you for this anniversary gift.
    You and I have shared publication in the recent Chautauqua but when I read the bio, I thought that it could not be Marian’s dear Becky since you lived in California. Marian assured me, it was you.
    Mary Anne Morefield

    Reply
  • Mary Anne Morefield September 13, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Hi Rebecca or Becky as Marian Dornell calls you,
    Marian just sent your Poetry Sunday comments with Sharon Coleman’s poem to honor our Wedding Anniversaries today. My husband has died. Eddie still lives.
    You and I both had our work in the recent Chautauqua so I feel that I, too, know you.
    Your comments on this poem was so insightful. Thank you for this gift
    on my anniversary!
    Mary Anne Morefield

    Reply