This week’s post comes (once again) with a poetry “friend-potism” warning. (Once every 5 or 6 posts…that’s not so bad.) And you won’t be sorry. Rachel is not only a tremendous person who can bake and knock your head off with a Krav Maga kick, she is an immensely talented poet whose work never fails to surprise me. I will share her poem “Kuk Mu: A Beginner’s Kata” – the link to the poem in Stirring is included as I tried and cannot maintain the formatting here, which is important to the piece. Go read. I’ll wait.
Welcome back. I told you, right? I adore this poem for many reasons. The first stanza sets up the conceit of using martial arts moves to frame a poem about a relationship, later revealed to be with the speaker’s son. It hints at young adolescence, the turbulence of that age set against the controlled movement of a block:
“I imagine the things you will have to bend
for, the things you will have to stand against. Again,
I say. More tension, more breath. Your face turns like
a summer storm; now the shield becomes a weapon.”
Then the second stanza arrives with hard lessons about threats and violence, how hurt is a wire connected at both ends of its transaction:
“On the playground you learn the nuance
of suggestion, the power of promise over threat:
My father has a sword, you say. It could
slice you in half, you say. The words taste like
pennies on your tongue. Worth almost
nothing. Not what you hoped for.”
In the third stanza, this child reports the violence done to a friend by his own mother. He cannot seem to understand this behavior – no one can:
“You want to know what it means, how it
can be love if it hurts him. I cannot explain.”
The stanza up to this point are squared, but in this third stanza, the words move out across the page in orderly couplets, the sweeping downward precision of the block and the descent into confusion on the part of the child in the poem. In the fourth stanza, the rising block sweeps upward (back toward the left margin) as the child uses his strength to protect, something he was helpless to do with the friend in the third stanza.
“You stand very close to him, say Stop in a voice
clear as winter noon in the pine barrens. What do we
stand for if not each other, you say. You show her
the right degree of elbow and fist, palm out,
rigid, immovable. The strongest defense.”
And the last stanza, reproduced below, pulls all of it together with a “straight punch” – the straight answers to questions that don’t really have answers that a parent must often give:
“Some days you will see smoke but never feel the fire. Other days life will explode, no warning, a five-mile radius of ash and glass and heartbreak. Some days you will rush in to help. Other days you will run the other way. Some days holding your breath will be all you can do. Some days the wind will clear the mist, bright skies all around. Some days you will stand like a fortress, son. Other days you will let yourself fall. “
That form mimics content. That the movements of martial arts are used to make an old subject completely new. That, despite its simple language, it delivers a realistic punch to the gut of any parent who has tried to explain how humans behave and had their words fall short. Those are a few reasons I love this poem. These words do not fall short. Not at all.
* If you want to read more of Rachel’s work, head over to her website where she has links to her work online.
* if you want to write:
1. Choose an interest (or hobby or sport) and write a multi-part poem that uses the terminology of that interest as subtitles.
2. Write a poem about hurt or harm using only images and words with positive connotations.