Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moth Hymn

I've been thinking a lot about poetry lately, about my poems specifically, in part because of the upcoming reading with Eduardo and Gina, but I think also because I'm getting ready to start the MFA here at UA in a genre other than poetry: non-fiction. And I've got a handful of poems I'm getting ready to submit, as well. They've been done for a while---a year or so---but it's time to (in most cases) resend them out. They are fledged. They want, through my want, to have a home, to have a life of their own.

And submitting got me thinking about the first poem I published, "Letter from Charles Darwin to His Sister, Catherine," which appeared in the now-defunct New Mexico Humanities Review, Volume 36, 1992. Looking through the 192-page journal, I discovered---or surely rediscovered---a poem, "Moth Hymn," by my undergraduate instructor and mentor R.T. Smith. It was Smith, in fact, who suggested I submit to NMHR.

So it is a pleasure to present Rod's poem, which I think is indicative of the way he masterfully crafts the poem, a real work of art from one of modern poetry's finest artisans:


Moth Hymn

by R.T. Smith


At last I am only breath
with mild-colored dust to lend it form,
symmetry to lure the wind. A noctuid,
ash-frail, I hover at the window silvered
with lamplight. I do not choose
to harbor in the dark tree
or merge with the fencewoods's rippled grain,

but let the light muscles of my wings lift
me toward the still
household. I circle, as if
the whole human shelter were
a flame. The sounds of sleep
and lovemaking call me to brush glass or
settle on the outside sill.
I would touch the seam of your affections.
I would be flesh of your
flesh, the hush behind your whisper.

I know this fixation with domestic warmth and voices
will never save me. I know no one
sees me as a flower
with twin petals. Children
do not seek to net me, to
thrill at my name, call me
monarch or viceroy.

I am plain gray, marked as slate, agate or
flagstone, yet I flit
and flicker, myself a plain flame, hue of housedust
and photograph grain. Perhaps
I am io, sphinx, gypsy or cycropia. I thrive
on both nectar and carrion, but
from my first birth as crysalis
I am harmless
in the tansey, light as thistle
seeds, quiet in the hazel,

and in the hawthorne lost in thought, the thicket
of wishes. I am not
the wasp of weeping. I do not sizzle like
the mosquito after your veins. I refuse to follow
the firefly to the orchard,
the owl to the river,
while you are yet tossing. My kind can
rest lightly as a seraph's kiss
on your lips and never
wake you. We can bestow sleep's pollen on your
sad eyes. I can dispell
sorrow with
a soft dream: say, life drifting, a single feather;
say, the evensong caught in silence,
the last note unsung, never tamed.

When morning calm brings you softness and refreshment,
I will have gone
where night always goes, leaving my powdery scales
as invisible evidence on the lawn.
I will lie down where the sweet ghosts
linger to recite
their litany of names,
io, as I have said, gypsy and cycropia.

And now I am active, now reflective,
the passive self-stuttering flame.
Now I am silent and finished by the dissolving dew's
lamentations and wind-drift. Oblique
as cricket song, I am the common
moth minimal outside your window,
benevolent, pearl-winged and estranged.

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