April 20, 2011

Poet for April 20, 2011 - Donald Justice

Today's poet is Donald Justice, who may not be known as the leading poet of the latter part of the twentieth century but has done as much or more than anyone else to influence the poets of my generation. Through his efforts over many decades at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Donald Justice has guided a whole generation or two of famous poets.

I had read some poems by Donald Justice in 2009 and one in particular has stayed with me because of its amazing first four lines but before I come to that poem, I'll quote here something the poet Edward Bryne has written about Justice's poems:
The most anthologized poems by Justice were those that exhibited the detached or distant voice addressing themes of isolation and containing subjects who slipped into their scenery almost to the point of invisibility.  These poems often displayed settings that were also spare and indistinguishable, able to represent anywhere one wanted to imagine them to be. 

Donald Justice (Born: August 12 1925, Miami, FL - Died - August 6 2004, Iowa City, IA)

And now onto a few of his poems.

The Silent World
by Donald Justice

. . . in the kitchen, as she bends to serve,
Aunt Babe's too finely thin, upgathered hair
 Filters the sunlight coming through behind
 (Which is how Griffith lights his heroines).
Moth-wings cling to the door-screen; dust motes whirl.
There is such a light! 

                    The grown-ups chatter on,
Unheard. Now, in the distance, a clatter of train-cars --
And the child listens; that is, he can see
The bell in close-up swinging back and forth,
The huge wheels revolving, the steam rising..
But already the silent world was lost forever.

In the Attic
By Donald Justice

There’s a half hour toward dusk when flies,
Trapped by the summer screens, expire
Musically in the dust of sills;
And ceilings slope toward remembrance.

The same crimson afternoons expire
Over the same few rooftops repeatedly;
Only being stored up for remembrance,
They somehow escape the ordinary.

Childhood is like that, repeatedly
Lost in the very longueurs it redeems.
One forgets how small and ordinary
The world looked once by dusklight from above…

But not the moment which redeems
The drowsy arias of flies—
And the chin settles onto palms above
Numbed elbows propped up on rotting sills.

Memory of a Porch
by Donald Justice

What I remember
Is how the wind chime
Commenced to stir
As she spoke of her childhood,

As though the simple
Death of a pet cat,
Buried with flowers,

Had brought to the porch
A rumor of storms
Dying out over
Some dark Atlantic.

At least I heard
The thing begin––
A thin, skeletal music––

And in the deep silence
Below all memory
The sighing of ferns
Half asleep in their boxes.

And now the poem by Donald Justice, which particularly hits home today, and whose opening lines have stayed with me from the first time I read them.

Men At Forty
by Donald Justice

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices tying
His father's tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

And my own version, with due apologies to Donald Justice.
Men Turning Forty
by Sanjeev Naik

Men turning forty
wonder which doors to close
and which new ones
to explore.

Anxious in the waiting room,
they shuffle their feet,
balking at the idea of the doctor
slipping his blue gloves on.

This is the age when they worry
and think of men whose obituaries
they have read: "Dead at age 42,
of a sudden heart attack."

Deep inside, they feel a hole.
Something has unfilled itself,
something as vast as the universe,
something never to be reclaimed.

Men at forty wake up every morning,
thankful for waking up, rueful
of what could have been,
and anxious for what will be.

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