Korean Mums

SchuylerBecause of Mark Ford’s workshop, I have been reading his anthology The New York Poets, which includes Ashbery, O’Hara, Koch and Schuyler. This is an excellent selection of poems, with short, cogent introductions. Mark suggested I pay particular attention to James Schuyler, whom I hadn’t read at all before. I find him accessible, many short poems arising like a soap bubble of a moment–an image, carefully chosen, captured in time.

Korean mums aef11 0804In and out of mental hospitals, often living with friends, Schuyler has a series of poems from Payne Whitney that I especially like, but I chose a slightly longer one for today, because I like its arc and its deceptive simplicity. Deceptive because of the astute details: salt hay, airedale, the owls bulk “troubling the twilight,” the Korean mums themselves, and its clever line breaks. One can learn a lot from such crafted simplicity.

imagesKorean Mums

beside me in this garden
are huge and daisy-like
(why not? are not
oxeye daisies a chrysanthemum?),
the leaves pointing up
the stems from which
the flowers burst in
sunbursts. I love
this garden in all its moods,
even under its winter coat
of salt hay, or now,
in October, more than
half gone over: here
a rose, there a clump
of aconite. This morning
one of the dogs killed
a barn owl. Bob saw
it happen, tried to
intervene. The airedale
snapped its neck and left
it lying. Now the bird
lies buried by an apple
tree. Last evening
from the table we saw
the owl, huge in the dusk,
circling the field
on owl-silent wings.
The first one ever seen
here: now it’s gone,
a dream you just remember.

The dogs are barking. In
the studio music plays
and Bob and Darragh paint.
I sit scribbling in a little
notebook at a garden table,
too hot in a heavy shirt
in the mid-October sun
into which the Korean mums
all face. There is a
dull book with me,
an apple core, cigarettes,
an ashtray. Behind me
the rue I gave Bob
flourishes. Light on leaves,
so much to see, and
all I really see is that
owl, its bulk troubling
the twilight. I’ll
soon forget it: what
is there I have not forgot?
Or one day will forget:
this garden, the breeze
in stillness, even
the words, Korean mums.

James Schuyler

And isn’t that part of why we write–to capture such moments, soon lost?


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