infrasonic; i have slept; toward evening
By: George Perreault
we assume silence to be nothing
though the deep basins ring
with their hidden acapella
and across the savannah
giraffes and elephants nod
to what we’ll never know.
when the cat next door was dying
mine would walk over
and sit beside all day.
the hollow of an empty church.
a hay barn late at night.
i have slept
slept into fire in the evening clouds
bronzing the skin of this world
followed rivers of everyone’s children
to the breath of a dry earth’s opening
slept through the gates of heavens beckoning
with a huge rising beyond
slept the trees sweeping the wind farewell
then slept the wind itself back into being
slept past c-squared not to find gods or angels
but the eyes of women shining from oceans
and from the prairies where oceans used to be,
the dirt and rock we have kneaded into prayer
slept into caves warming as we sank down
with the one-mind of schooled fishes, slept
into the clip-clop of crickets and night frogs
and the moving bubble of silence where we become
the smallest numbers that ever were:
all of this and the butterfly flutter of bats and
crows calling darkly through another dawn,
i have slept and rise to sleep again
say you were sitting
warm against a low wall
a first high wind passing over
greens edging to gold
a scatter of gifts
and the light shining through
an ocean hums high in the trees
purple ash turning silver, then again
like kelp in an underwater surge
each leaf falling to its perfect place
then moving to another
and nothing is lost
in the canyon
each rock grows into
the home it has made
one of the great poems
of your later years
George Perreault has published in journals and anthologies in the US and elsewhere. His most recent book is Bodark County, a collection of poems in the voices of characters living on the Llano Estacado in West Texas.
Interview With the Poet: Cathexis Northwest Press: How long have you been writing poetry?
George Perreault: I began writing poetry in my mid-twenties after I was married, had children and a fulltime job and all the rest, so there was no time for writing fiction, which had been my first interest. CNP: Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry? GP: I’d always enjoyed poetry, the music of it, the inventiveness, but poetry was so badly taught in schools that it took a while to past that, and even then it was always individual poems that drew me in rather then the art form itself. Perhaps the first poem I truly connected with was “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, which I came across in high school, and but I didn’t love it so much as “A Poem” then as a perfect concise capturing of an insight. And the language – the “blueblack cold”, “love’s austere and lonely offices” – I can read it now years and years later and still be astonished. Interestingly, as I started to write my own poetry, I was very much drawn to translations of old Chinese poetry, to the simplicity and the clarity of it. That might show in some of my work over the years.
CNP: Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems? GP: Isn’t that like the Oscar speech, too many to thank in this brief time allotted? A deep bow to Jack Gilbert, of course, then thanks to W. S. Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death” and thanks to Carolyn Forché for “The Colonel” and to Li Bai for almost everything. CNP: Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone? GP: Probably because I started writing poetry during stolen moments in a busy life, I’ve always been a bit of a binge writer, letting the need arise rather than sitting down at a particular time in a particular place. Consequently, a lot of my work is driven by urgency. Everyone does it in their own way, for better or worse, but for me writing is somewhere between a prayer and a therapy to get me through the day and some days are fine by themselves.. CNP: How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go? GP: Almost always the poem tells me what form it wants to take. Sometimes it insists on couplets, sometimes it refuses to be broken into regular segments. Years ago I remember starting a poem that needed to be in the same form Dylan Thomas used for “Do Not Go Gentle,” the name of which I could not remember and, it being before the Internet, I had to find the poem in a book and figure it out myself. The next day I showed it my friend Franz and can still hear him saying in his thick German accent, “Oh, that is a villanelle!” So I’ve written two villanelles and one ballad and a few fourteen-line poems that refuse to identify as sonnets. Otherwise, I just keep almost everything left-justified and let it sing they way it wants to sing. CNP: Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice? GP: I think you learn to write by writing and by listening to what it sounds like. Poetry is essentially a spoken art. Find something you really like and read it out loud, listen for the rhythms and sounds. Then do the same with your own work. We’re all still learning as we go, and you’re extraordinarily lucky if you find someone to share the process with you.
CNP: What is your editing process like? GP: For me, editing is listening to what the poem sounds like. I have to hear it over and over until there’s a “rightness” to it, and then I try to make sure the way it’s written is true to what I am hearing, that there’s nothing on the page that misdirects a reader, that would make them misread the poem in terms of how it sounds, even if the “meanings” of the poem haven’t become entirely clear yet. CNP: When do you know that a poem is finished? GP: Well, it tells you, doesn’t it? It says: that’s good enough for now; you could share this one, maybe tinker with it later. Then you need to accept that some poems will never be done and move on. Have some humility. We just do the best we can do..