Pick-a-Poem: What Is


Good morning, blog readers! Because it’s Wednesday, that means that we’ve got another bit of poetry to share with you. Of course, if you’d like even more poetry injected into your week, you can check out the Poetry Daily website, which is where I find all of these poems. But today we’re going to focus on What Is, a poem written by Peter Cole.

According to the bio on his website, Peter Cole has written three books of poetry. His most recent collection is entitled Things on Which I’ve Stumbled (New Directions, 2008). In January 2014, his new volume — The Invention of Influence — will be published. Cole has also written The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition, and a book of non-fiction, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza (Schocken/Nextbook), written with Adina Hoffman. Cole co-edits Ibis Editions and teaches at Yale University in the spring. He is the recipient of a 2010 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2007 was named a MacArthur Fellow.

What Isby Peter Cole

     For MRM, in memoriam

The Norway maple’s chartreuse crown
in April ciphers autumn’s flares,
startling with mace-like spikelets of flowers
swelling over the paths of that square

where we wander, adrift in the branching—
or is it what’s branching adrift in us—
wafted as if afloat on a wisdom
flowing through this city forest.

The grid encodes an understanding:
Those who stroll past tines of elms,
who’ll wade the shade of summer’s linden
and trace the mottled bark of planes,

move as though of their own accord
but under invisible gates of a grace
born in their being borne along
or gradually dying to the spell of the place

where dogs are walked and judgment is rendered
and power, as weakness, brings down limbs;
where mercy’s continual averment is tendered,
and children at recess dart into rings;

where a woman’s will surges through her
sitting alone in the rinse of her cancer,
as the vapor of chatter’s released to the air.
All part of the terrible splendor—

the weeping cherry shedding petals,
like snow in an ancient ocular rhyme—
the sight, of course, is a site of convention,
the tiniest of triumphs over time,

and yet—somehow, the sarabande combines
as majesty. The rupture and gentle carriage
of kindness. The wind’s extended winding
kiss. The almost now actual: a marriage

not so much of opposites as,
say, opposing aspects—exits
to entrances, or attics holding an axial
weave of sound’s foundation. The praxis

perfecting opens into. An instant’s
happiness putting us back in the business
of funneling the whole shebang, which Kabbalists
have given a name. Kingdom. What is.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s featured poem. For more of these, you can check out the archives.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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