We’re honored to feature five poems from Mari L’Esperance’s first full-length collection, The Darkened Temple. Her work has appeared in Pequod, the Beloit Poetry Journal, Barnabe Mountain Review, and Salamander, in addition to numerous other journals. Her first chapbook, Begin Here, won first prize in the 1999 Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press national chapbook competition.
The following poems are reprinted from The Darkened Temple by permission of the University of Nebraska Press, © 2008, by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. The collection is available wherever books are sold, or online from the University of Nebraska Press.
All day the fog off the bay sighs to be let in.
And all day I am alone with her, trying
to write her from memory, and failing,
trying again, and failing—as if writing her
could explain the past, make her real,
shape her into something actual.
Instead, even the swaying acacias
are shrouded figures in the swirling gloom.
The fog wants in. I cannot see beyond it.
Someone tell me how the story ends.
I am tired and want no more of this journey.
TO HER BODY
Of water. Of sub-
Fire. Limbs charred
and smoking. Of
on the azaleas—its
brittle purity. Indigo,
celadon. Bitter green
and gingko. Of
hunger and the one
long scar. Of womb.
Bone shard. Heartache.
Mud and clay. Of stone.
Loneliness. The child’s
cry, unanswered. Of
want and despair.
Of salt. Blood—blood
on silk, on lacquer.
Of dusk. Irises. Fog
in the cedars. Of fog.
Fog and absence.
The garden that you loved has folded into itself,
the rotting blooms and stems so much litter in the dirt.
The empty bird feeder glints and sways in the sun,
freed of its purpose.
What is left of you, Mother, threatens to break apart
at the edges, a thin outline already losing its shape.
This must be how the heart makes a place
for the life that still demands to be lived,
turning away in stages until whatever the heart bears
takes on a new likeness, something it can live with.
Or is it that what remains finds a way to rearrange itself
around absence, until absence becomes part of the picture,
bland and familiar. The old photographs lie hidden
between dark layers of blankets and stale cedar.
They too are working their way, little by little,
into what we can’t yet imagine they will become.
AS TOLD BY THREE RIVERS
Eight a.m., up too late the night before
learning the nose and throat, the bones
of the hand. Rounding a corner
on the seventh floor of Eye & Ear, the view
from the window takes you by surprise:
the city of Pittsburgh fanned out before you,
its verdant wedge of land softened
by the arms of three rivers, their names alone
like music—Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio—
threading their slow eternal way home,
knowing. You think of Naipaul’s book, how
that distant mythic river in that distant
unnamed place reminds you somehow
of these three rivers meeting, the purpose
in their joined ambition as it should be,
how their journey tells the same story,
a story of becoming, of knowing one’s place
in the world. Standing there at the window
you see how everything that’s come before
has brought you here, how it all makes sense,
these three timeless rivers moving forward,
deliberate and without question, telling the story
of the life you have chosen, of the life
you could not help but choose.
WHITE HYDRANGEAS AS A WAY BACK TO THE SELF (excerpt)
To enter the mind is a dangerous act—
In the mind there are rooms
we dare not inhabit,
we refuse to follow—
This is about a kind of intelligence.
This is about making a way
to live in the world.
To enter the story
going back to the beginning.
To enter the story
and drowning is the only way
to get there—
To begin is a dangerous act.
To enter is to risk disaster,
mind infinitely skilled at deflecting
what it cannot bear—
circling and circling the perimeter,
black surface sheened like onyx
(to protect me, I think—must think)
and no perceptible point of entry—
The self is a house
that is closed to me.
It stands on the other side
It is not the entering
but the fear
and what I imagine
I might then
Another poem from The Darkened Temple, “Finding My Mother,” appeared as part of our Poet-a-Day feature during April 2010. Read it here.