365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


The Giving Away
  (for Jeri King)

Always we give away
what we make with our hands --
shape fashion form something,
marks of smooth finger curl and touch
on it,
and bowl takes on the breath of earth and clay
-- because it lives beyond us.

You gave away in minutes
months of work and art
saying this
made you feel good
and smiled as we chose another cup or pitcher.

We give away
because the separation
like ending the wheel turn,
leaving the last slip
the kiln's right fire,
is a patterned and social art.
The giving is a part of the act of making
and is the bowl's true shape.
"The precision of verticality" you have called it
is a conversation and smile.

The bowl now holds three bay leaves,
a shed locust body,
one piece of obsidian.
Always we must give away
the thanks for gifts --
because our hands move best in practiced and caring motion.

What We Know
  (for Jane)

She said he gave her fish and cedar sculptures,
that he was here,
and that she loved these things.
Another friend said he was no longer in love,
that what bothered him was
that he couldn't hold this feeling.
He said it seemed distant.

I am a thousand miles from my lover and child,
feel them in scent and loss,
and form my loneliness,
like the grain of a day
I shape to a mood:
the taste of my memory so strong
that the back of my tongue knows it.

Debris of fish scales and wood ships
fill a studio somewhere,
and elsewhere
my other friend is sweeping:

such pungent odor,
such cleanliness,
such longing when I breathe deeply.

Saying to You

Rain fell, soft ring
in sound and muted splash.
I turned down the phone
hoping that when you called
it would sound just like this
voice -- and in part natural.

Water boiling for tea,
popping footsteps
in the kettle,
the muffled bell in the phone,
the furnace humming this first cold day,
the rubcatch of my foot on the floor
when I turned,
and our words covered in quilts.

Talking with you is sweet
and caressing
pictures of ease before comment.
Listening is leaning back in my chair
or curling up under covers.
I think of you as sound
as rain
and as whispers and smiles
across our hands.

Love Poem and Nature

Yet I can imagine that some race gathered those [ancient flowers] too with as much admiration, and knew them as intimately as I do these [flowers], that even they served for a language of the sentiments. Stigmariae stood for human sentiment in that race's flower language.
(June 5, 1857, Journal, Thoreau)

In slow open blossom petal peels back
in sun
and warmth and glow
of this sentiment,
what this poem should say.

Stigmariae -- "branded" and fixed in a language of
emotion and stone.
These fossil sentiments I hand you as a poem.
A flower,
language of smell, weight, and feel,
a poem which grows in soil, light, water and type.
An emotion written as green leaves and color.

These words are old.
In new shoot and seedling
they grow and stretch.
These are reckless flowers I give you.
They have grown over older intimacies.
Their roots are firm, throughout and through the paper,
and covered in soil. I am in wonder.
I can only sense a deeper language
an older poem,
a perennial flower.
These are tawny words I write.

David Taylor teaches in the English Department at Converse College in Spartanburg. He has published poems in Southern Poetry Review and Timberlines and essays in Environmental History and Contemporary Philosophy. South Carolina Naturalists: An Anthology, 1700-1860, which he edited, is forth-coming from the University of South Carolina Press.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 10/15/97