Glacier National Park and the Elegy

Prageeta Sharma

for Mike, July 2016


        After Dale’s sudden cancer,    
                                                   his body wasting swiftly to death,
        I didn’t believe in love or beauty,                          or my ability
                    to write poems.
                        And my grieving turned into a sequence of                                                writing 
                                   little hostile elegies
        in solitary sittings.                      Elegies ceased being an                             elegant poetic form.
                                                I guess I was trying to understand  
                                      the shape of a new sorrow in its deep
                                            recognizance; 
        how easily it’s foraged for my marginalized hungers that
                   felt      
                                    legitimately nullified.
        With it, figurative language estranged itself
        from crafting mutable metaphors,
                    of the natural world standing
                                            in its place within adjectival phrases.

Landscape, though permissible, seemed to only swell around 
        retaining rivers beneath my feet with a grave distance.
  Bodies ensued to ashes now,
                         and I didn’t utter dust to dust.
                                        Only after losing many months and time
        I did (slowly) begin to notice a greener (faint) tint to the
                    sunlight.

                                                          This felt like a small divinity.
***

        Finding you was this too,
                                 after such importunate feelings of
                                            abandonment.

I said this is a  remarkable lightness I feel, I couldn’t imagine it
        before I felt it.
 
        You told me to look at the moon.  I did.

        That’s what you did after Marie died.

        You believed all moons in the sky to be
                                             elegiac in a nonfigurative sense,
                                                        real to the eye,
                      therefore, you represented its steadfast truth. 

                                   I proposed then a drive to Glacier National
                                            Park
        thinking of a fine faultless finery—the firs, pines, and
                    stillness.

                                     We drove up—higher than I expected—
        skyward up the steepest corners and edges
                   and I looked out at spring’s     sustenance,
                                                                        an earthwork
                   of forest trees scored in majestic columns, bedded
                                and wooded,
        coated with needles, fully medicinal, 

                   their similes shedding: of giving over the live
                               forested body
        to its eminence.            Of the mountain’s height,
                                    its splendor-drop because of its scare
                                            quality.  
                                                   I felt hesitant to look out. 
        But for descriptors: the rounded grass tufts 
                                  near the car grates  then a hell-drop,
                         a belt of green.
                                                    Stones and gravel and gray peeking
                                                        though.

                                          This driving with you is a climb of faith,
                                            I think,
                        and I feel it along with a helpless irritation of lust
                                in my throat
and gut, and a pair of callous and ashen calves and feet I seem
                                      to have earned.

                            You helped me through a dry summer, fall,                                                winter
        and now                     summer.
        Ten months after he died.  He and I, all these years,
        had never gone to Glacier, 
        only near it to Flathead or Whitefish, to fireplace lodges
                    tucked away.

                                                          I brought you to the Weeping
                                                                    Walls,
        where we turned around,  because you drove still further
        until I threatened fear of heights.
                       I don’t know how to celebrate 100  years
                                                this high up but you do.

        This winding high-up national park with me:
                                   your glasses cocked on your head,
        a strange visor of blackish hair,
                                    camera chest-centered,
                        erect lens outward but modest
                                         two circles looking above my direction
                        at the field of  Beargrass, with its white stalks
        and awkward loomed light.
        I was unable to get out of the car at Heaven’s Peak,
                      because the sublime was frightening
        but I crawled around the side and peered over, and I knew
        I would never use the word               Heaven 
        to describe anything I saw of death, but I saw beauty
                        in a scrap of its light
                                        I was not afraid
        of it taking me with it, the way I had seen him disappear
                    into illness,
                           its extinguishing erasure.

***

I hold you in Glacier 
        where I see you clearly.   

        I will plow the hard-won truth of pitching death
        and flinging its burden into spaces.
        No treason I feel            now (because)
        the eros of the natural world lingers in sentience,

        flooding with its central question of what (life and death)
                       collectively crushes.

        I held onto the silver bumper of your car gripping your
                    hand
        because it was                   your hand and you, too, were
                    silvery
                            behind frank light and squinting
                                             to see into a camera’s moon,
                                                                           a lasting present tense
                                             we just gave ourselves over to, lifted to
                                                     case
                            its blue course: a formal sky of imperturbable
                                clouds,
                                         of unambiguous secularity.

                                         We take a simple walk around the car
                                                 now. 


 


 

More by Prageeta Sharma

What Happened at the Service?

The forest service team came to my house to give me a thin-leafed tree,
and to say you can have something, if you wish.
You can have this native tree, a skinny branch, a skinny leaf
with bareness between the leaves.  
A shrub like me? Here is my bark-being underneath.

The freight service team came to my office to give me a vermilion boxcar,
and to say you can have something if you wish.
Why is there no train service? No Amtrak? No russet cargo of folk,
no poets to embrace because our hands all unclasped in response 
to the peptic ulcer of too much fanfare, 
woods with austere engravings—plumed-pen-etched-words, 
severe sentences with accusations—then interjections—
poets all alone floating skyward.

I have found the writing on the wall to be formidable—no patois,
no interesting resilience—I don’t care for leaf rot 
nor figures who do their own dance. 
They find frozen ground menacing—they found me menacing—
even when they say in unison you can have something, if you wish.

It was not I who shoveled the shore and fixed it to another place.
I didn’t find the pallor remarkable nor did I steal it.
I did however try to emulate it—pale-face looked feasible.
I thought I could have something but this was untrue.   
I didn’t take your sun. 
I didn’t take your eyes.

I’ve been trying to salvage the bitter roots that came my way, 
the tincture inside watery and unctuous—
maybe the residue is sweet. 
Or look to the river with its over-determined gurgles 
in the vicinity, 
small cascades immersed in scenery. 

All will sound false to you but I can hear my real voice attempting speech—
but you happened to me—you ghosted your way through me,
you shrubbed me, not the other way around. 
I know these things. 
I have been down here, not up there—
I don’t believe in powers that be,
but can see how the world looks up there. 
How it knights itself with the grandiose—the majestic snow
of simulated faces, the whiteness that surrounds me,
and the quiet that follows.

Poetry Anonymous

Do not fall in love with a poet
they are no more honest than a stockbroker.

(Do you have a stockbroker? If you do, 
your poet is with you because you have one.) 

If you think that they are more sensitive because they care about language
pay attention to how they use language.
Are you included? Are you the "you"?

Or are you a suggestion?
Are you partially included as a suggestion? 

        Are you partially excluded because you are a concept 
        in some jewel-like nouns, almost throwaway,
        yet a perfect resemblance? 

        How does narcissism 
        assist you, who is also the object of desire?
        Do you become the tour-de-force?  

        Consider that poem's vagueness doesn't account for your complexity
        and the epithets don't suffice, you are not "one who is a horse-drawn carriage" 
        nor are you a "sparrow with hatchet." 

Perhaps they quote Mallarme when taking you to bed, 
carefully confusing you with their charm and faux-chastity.

All this before voracious body-pressing.
The lovemaking is confusing until, you remember, they said something:

thus spake the dreamboat, your poet, alarmingly announces during climax:

I spend my fires with the slender rank of prelate

and then fierce withdrawal with a rush of perseverance to flee.

You are mistaken if language furthers your devotion.
You are a fallen person now.
They care more about "you" than for you (you, the real person you).

Line after line, a private, unmediated act done to you with confusing abandon, 
flailing in its substance, however deceptive.

It will enhance your own directionlessness, 
you will be harmed. 

You cannot mediate it with caress. 

Do you think because they understand what meaning looks like, 
they have more meaning than others? 
They are the protectors of feeling, mere protectors: earnest? 
        No. They are protectors of the flawed,
        filling zones of bereftness. 
        The aftermath of pleasure. A contested zone for all.  

What about the lawyer who loves the law? 
Isn't he just a poet with a larger book—
the way they protect and subject language 
to sense-making? 

A kind of cognitive patternization. 

Ultimately, both undertake the hijacking of language, 
they won't love you the way
you are; it's in this inability to love— 
unless you embody the poem— 
you embody the law and its turn of phrase.
Unless you see the poet clearly: loving utterance, 
an unadulterated utterance—seized and insular. 

You must entice with otherness.
        You must catch the poem as a muse does. 
You must muse and muse and muse. 

In thralldom to encounters that stand in for sexual ones, 
we terrorize with sense-making, 

it stands in for intimacy. 

It stands in and suggests that all other kinds of feelings 
and declarations yield to it.

It will move you if you ask for permission 
to exist within its confines,
and you move the poet toward you and you hold the poet's head,
wrapping your arms around it 
strapped in your wordless hold, but soon words do come 

and in the trailing off of speech, you will be permanently lost.

A Situation for Mrs. Biswas

When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.  

A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs, 

winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones, 

little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.  

I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,

a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets. 

The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise 
I would have stayed in there a little longer. 

She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments, 
she also had a warming patient smile. 

I didn't stay long, I didn't linger; 
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn't stumble around there for hours.

(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.) 

If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment. 

~

You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing 
(I usually keep it off in stores), 

and my father said, there's something I have to tell you.
I don't want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job. 
They want me to resign. 

Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities. 

He was interested in outreach. 

People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man. 

I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.

I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed. 

Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place. 

Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle. 

And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination, 
there was a plot in place. 
 
We, as a family, felt the public ridicule. 

And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark, 
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.

My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—

mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging

One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.  

Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con, 
a snake-oil man. 

You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism. 
 
We knew he hadn't done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.

Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays, 
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;  
I wanted to decorate the house. 

This was my first house. 
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees. 
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun. 

And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent. 

I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke 
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes. 

Before this moment I was in a terrific mood. 

I wanted to don the table 
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence 
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow. 

I had been in Missoula for many months, 
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years. 
Now I was ready to escape.

Having been born and raised outside of Boston, 
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had. 

I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize. 

Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity, 
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance 
even with Harvard as its mirror. 
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)

Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was. 
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut. 

I was consumed with the bliss of poetry, 
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.

I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology, 
my intentional community, front and center—with bells. 

My family was overjoyed with the way our lives 
were working together—

my father was comfortable, my mother pleased, 
a professorship and presidential position 
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president. 

He had come to America with very little and now had something. 

As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here. 

When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
   security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
   was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster. 

It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce. 

The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months: 

a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist's chair for the living room.  

He bought the Bob Dylan album that had "Blowing in the Wind," because it really
   sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.

For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
   rewarded for his good work by white people. 

We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet's life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.  

I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms. 

Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…

And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.

~

The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.

I said what is happening to my father? 

In response, my husband's back gave out, 
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night

and I wasn't sure which one of us it was. 

What was happening to my ableness? 

We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.

The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it. 

I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering. 
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet. 

There are assertions about difference 
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did. 

Where was I? Who was I? 

My father was told he had to watch his back 
and then they took everything away from him. 

To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too? 

What did I think I could have? I wasn't even sure if I had it here. 
People hadn't seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds 

and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege 
only others could have—not "others" in the sense in which I was other. 

I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn't. 

Imagine, we were so close 
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell. 
How we knew falling wouldn't end us,

fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self, 
it can't be as bad as you think. 

I said let's remember how to do it so it won't hurt 
this time or the next.  

But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—

we found ourselves languishing, then needing 
to rebuild.  

It was the turning of the year and then another one.

And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—

we came out to clear them away.

Related Poems

Central Avenue Beach

 

—Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2016

 

1.

Just off of Highway 12, Sandburg’s signature
of time & eternity: the muggy marshes

& thick forests of the mind, sand that sings
its memory of glaciers & the glaciers before

them. 14,000 years of them. After
the Potawatomi got marched away & before

the steel makers’ smokestacks & the abandoned
Bailly Nuclear Plant cupped this lakeshore

like hands around a beach party’s last
dry match: Lake Michigan’s wide-brimmed

posture as close to an ocean as the scrub
brush, gulls, & rocks around here will get.  

 

2.

Every town around here
has a Central Avenue, complete
with blustery flags & home-
cooked meals. Blank storefronts
& churches next to other churches—
lake light filtering through
their stained glass windows
most sunny afternoons after 3pm.
Steeples, one after another,
like the Great Lakes’ waves
trying to blink constant sand
out of wet eyes. & at night, all  
of the avenue lights up. No street
lights, but stars & moon blinking
in agitated water while the industrial
lights on the fringes dim like blank
faces traced in constellations.

 

3.

Listen to the Sand
     Hill Cranes folding
into the dim fringes

of themselves
     like prayer hands.
Listen to the yellow

warblers clustered
     up in the middle
of knotted branches

like a hungry chorus
     in these perfectly
paused trees. Even

at night, the birds
     grab sand-swirled air
with nonchalant wings.

 

4.

In the day or at night, central is centrālis in Latin & means exactly
what the warblers, trees, & restless dunes think it means: ruffles
of sand between the angry human fist & the equally angry
human face of industry, deregulations & pollutants as uninvited
as the sea lamprey wiggling through the locks & canals.

 

5.

After the canals & their creaking locks
     & the oxidized ships & their bleary horns,

the sun edges the blue between cuffed waves
     & unrepentant shore. After gravity’s

insoluble gears pull all of this water away
     from Central Avenue & back to the center

& the fish swim away from shore through
     the gills of noises & sediment in that sideways

way fish do. In a lake this big, it’s possible
     to swim in circles all day & get no further

from the moon than this parade of whitecaps
     on the edges of the dunes. The same

frustrated tendencies of circle, these waves.
     The same cornered ingenuity, this great lake.

These dunes, always on the mainline’s wet
     cusp—polished, brocaded & fabulous.