Then I wanted to kiss your wounds, especially the one
on your neck, where once your head grew crooked, veered to the right,
and the one at the bottom of your spine, the scar marking
a slipped disc of cartilage and vertebrae, the precision
of incision made by the surgeon’s scalpel. You were this tree
in need of repair, sturdy but still fragile, less agile
with matters dealing with the interior below ribs,
space where the blood pumped air through the ventricles and vessels
and I, who was neither a surgeon nor a gardener,
who couldn’t gauge blood pressure, the right temperature for bulbs,
still wanted to graft your wounds, mend the injured muscle, torn,
worn nerves, the branch where your neck ached sadness in your eyes made
me want to rub them, all the ruins, even
the ones with their stain and imprint camouflaged by years.
Song Played for You
I dream you with coffee, one eye sunned
with cataracts, eyes glancing here and there,
spotting something new in Ivan’s art,
the quizzical mixture of high art
and your girls’ playthings–stacks of games
and puzzles, brightly colored drawings
of sunflowers, tiny figures from
Happy Meals, piano both girls
play. Things you love: Vivaldi, Talking
Heads, dark beer, photos–them hugging you,
boat in Croatia, day you toured
islands of marble and lavender,
lavender that calms a cat’s nerves, your
emptied heart. What fills you–your daughters’
shimmer of glitter and nailpolish.
I dream I can see your touch–you,
sitting in your sunroom, the windows
pouring in lots of sunlight, tangled
wildflowers lingering in your
favorite room, Ivy’s and Bella’s
desks, mini-office they share with you.
The hot tub, a bin for dust bunnies.
Your den–the statues–Moses pointing
to the Promised Land, woman playing
an imaginary flute, just her
hands, (no flute) playing you the imaginary.
Songs play for you. Song of few
words. You sense how she’d balance
the flute if there were a flute, play you
a song when you eye things with Turkish
coffee, songs of a lone woman by
the sea. See Christ and child of chilled
marble weighing five hundred pounds or
more. The frozen victor, suffering
Job in Mahogany. A furrowed
browed self-portrait by your grandfather
Ivan, his bronze portrait of Tvrtko,
a mother and child. Ivan’s drawing
of two Assyrian gods, his cold
sketch of you as a child, the one blurred
image in this dream. Tell me, is it
charcoal or ink wash? I can’t see. So
much for the sublime, for Ivan’s
subterfuge and tutelage. I want
to ask you about the drawing of
three nude men’s heavy haulage, how they
ache to betray their sore muscles.
How these things comfort your will, calm
you–The sunroom’s scent of bananas
lingering with Croatian poppies.
Woman playing her imagined
flute for you. This song’s for you.
I played this song for you.
I’ll die decades from now,
in the century Two Thousand.
Will people say,
You look terrible?
What will I look like?
A white pumpkin? A ginger pickle?
Where will I be–
in the light of a spider chandelier?
Will I recognize the usual voices?
What will contain me? The air,
clouds, possibly the moon?
Will my bones turn blue underground,
or will there be men and women
picking them out of ashes?
I think about it all the time.
-from Shadow Mountain, selected by Guest Editor TR Hummer
Title of poems from *Shadow Mountain* (c) 2008 by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan.
Reprinted (or appears) with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.
PROMPT: Write two poems today that explore the same theme similar to these poems by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s, all three of which meditate on death, in this case the death of a loved one and, then, the imagined death of the self. There are all sorts of interesting ways to do this. If you wanted to write about love, you could write a poem in which love is requited and another poem in which, alas, is unrequited. Or you might write a poem about falling in love with someone and then, alas, falling out of love with them. Or you might write a poem about someone you love and then someone who loves you. The idea is to explore the same idea in two different ways. The poems might speak to one another, or they might not.
Either way, when it comes to craft, notice how specific Kageyama-Ramakrishnan is in these poems, particularly in “Song Played for You” in moments like “Things you love: Vivaldi, Talking / Heads, dark beer, photos–them hugging you, / boat in Croatia, day you toured / islands of marble and lavender, / lavender that calms a cat’s nerves, your / emptied heart…” and “I want / to ask you about the drawing of / three nude men’s heavy haulage, how / they ache to betray their sore muscles. / How these things comfort your will, calm / you–The sunroom’s scent of bananas / lingering with Croatian poppies.” She creates an entire world and character with such details, and out of that detail emerges narrative, voice, experience, and all the other delights poetry brings us. Enjoy.
BIO: Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan was born in Santa Monica and raised in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. in English from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, earned an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow, and completed her M.A. in literature at the University of California at Berkeley. At the University of Houston she was a Cambor Fellow and earned a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing. Kageyama-Ramakrishnan published three books while she was living: Shadow Mountain; Bear, Diamonds, and Crane; and Mentor and Muse: Essays from Poets to Poets. She passed away in 2016.