When You Told Me About Your Garden; Tenderness; Needle of the Heart
By: Alfred Fournier
When You Told Me About Your Garden
When you told me about your garden,
the gloom shading you lifted. Sunshine
lit a tangled patch of green thriving,
even in neglect, in a corner of your yard.
You walked me through tomato-scented air
to the buzz of cicadas, gesturing
toward ripened fruits beneath umbrellas
of lush foliage: Romas, Cherries, Jubilees.
Your gaze lingered on the peppers:
Cayenne, Shishito, Anaheim. You plucked
a Cubanelle, sweet enough, you mused,
breathing close to its chartreuse skin.
You lamented the weeds, the receding strength
of your body, cane propping you upright
long enough amid fertile growth to register
the derelict state of your life.
But I caught the scent of garlic sizzling
beneath your words, from garden
to frying pan. I heard in your voice
the sound of a soul remembering
how sprouts rise above soil after rain,
just outside the window.
We were barefoot, strolling summer coastline,
your small hand in mine eager to let go,
taken with the pale pink underside of things.
Like the shell you found and held out to me,
its white ribbed curvature cradled in my hand
as you dashed ahead through cresting waves.
Before you were born, my brother warned me
of the potency of parental love, its untamed
waters surging between peril and elation.
On a podcast today, the poet pondered
the word tenderness—how it holds
both fragility and care. I’d thought my job
was to ready you for the world. No,
my brother said, your job is to remember
what it means to be helpless.
Needle of the Heart
(a pantoum for Deanna)
An only daughter is the needle of the heart,
a compass pointing home
when the world has tilted too far
from the scent of childhood green.
A compass pointing home,
the Irish poet said,
his breath the scent of childhood green,
her smile his True North.
The Irish poet sailed,
his love an oaken mast,
her smile his True North,
only beacon on the shore.
His love an oaken mast,
he navigates a sea of grief
toward the beacon on the shore,
steadfast at the helm.
He navigates a sea of grief.
He turns the bow into the swell,
steadfast at the helm.
Her hope his bearing and his faith,
he turns the bow into the swell.
When the world has tilted too far,
her hope his bearing and his faith.
An only daughter is the needle of the heart.
Note: The title refers to a line from an old tale in Middle-Irish, “The Madness of Suibhne,” dated to the late 12th or early 13th century. The line inspired “Heart’s Needle,” a poem by W.D. Snodgrass.
Alfred Fournier is an entomologist, writer and community volunteer living in Phoenix, Arizona. His poetry and prose have appeared in Cathexsis Northwest Press, Lunch Ticket, Welter, The Main Street Rag, Hole In The Head Review, Ocotillo Review and elsewhere. New work is forthcoming at Delmarva Review and Sin Fronteras.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in high school, or what I thought was poetry at the time, because I was writing in verse. After a poetry class with a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Clute, my interest increased. Throughout the years, the flow of poetry has tapered off or increased, but it has always been there. I picked it up again in earnest about five years ago, and really dove in to reading contemporary poets.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
There is a short poem by Robert Graves called “The Utter Rim.” It starts with the word “And.” I found that strange at the time. “And if that Cerberus my mind….” In a handful of lines, it twists and turns, and feels like a journey, a trip, but it is inside the mind. I wanted to understand that. He was doing things with language I had never seen.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
In high school, I feel in love with E. E. Cummings. I love his joy and enthusiasm and the music of his poetry. My favorite poem by Cummings is “if ups the word and a world grows greener.” Other favorites: William Stafford (Bess, Traveling Through the Dark); Robert Pinsky (Shirt, The Want Bone); Danusha Laméris (The Watch); Ellen Bass (Sous Chef, Indigo); Ross Gay (To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian, A Small Needful Fact); There are so many others. I’m discovering new poets all the time.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I’m from the Natalie Goldberg school, which means I write every morning, no matter what. As a working man with a family, it is often the only time I find to write during the week. I may write poetry or prose. I might be journaling or free writing. There are no rules. I’m allowed to write crap. If something worthwhile emerges, I will stick with it. What gets me in the Zone? Reading other writers or listening to them read.
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?
Very much the latter. It’s only a semi-conscious process for me. The poem usually knows what it wants. I think it is in the shape, the length of the lines, the natural energy of the poem that emerges as I’m writing it. I do tend toward separate stanzas, and I favor stanzas of the same length, but it’s best not to force it. Mostly, it feels like a natural process.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
I think it is an ongoing process. I feel I am still finding mine. I guess my advice is, don’t be afraid to be yourself. There are so many different approaches to poetry. There is no one right way. Readers will treasure whatever emerges that is unique. I think that happens naturally with practice if you don’t get in the way of yourself. It can be instructive to imitate other poets you admire. I think the most important thing is reading, exposing yourself to different kinds of writing. You never know what you’ll find that will inspire you.
What is your editing process like?
My editing process varies by poem. Sometimes, a poem comes out very close to final form. I stay with it in one sitting and there are minimal changes after that. But this is not common for me. Generally, I do many edits, over weeks or months. I find it helpful to workshop a poem, to learn how other people hear it, whether anything confuses them. I sit down with the poem again and again, with days or weeks between sessions. I record myself reading the poem aloud and play it back. I scan the poem as I listen to the recording. I repeat this process with each new draft. To me, the sound of a poem holds the key to knowing when it’s right. I use a dictionary to help me think about the connotations of specific words. I use a thesaurus to generate options. I was at first bewildered by how to make a poem better, afraid to change anything. I recommend “The Poetry Home Repair Manual” by Ted Kooser. This book helped me learn how to carefully examine the different elements of a draft poem. There are so many opportunities to improve a poem when you know where to look. I am still learning.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
This can be obvious, or it can be elusive for me. Mostly, it has to do with the sound and movement of a poem. Does it circle back and complete itself without leaving too much unresolved on the page? Does it open and close like a book? If I am not sure, then the poem probably needs more work. Patience is key, and I still struggle with this. Better to put a poem away for a while then to send it out when it’s not ready.