The Poetry Porch 2: Poetry

Four Poems by Katherine Jackson


1. To a Young Pharoah
2. Learning to Sketch Carmella's Garden
3. Blue Spring
4. Going Home

To read translations of Saba by Katherine Jackson.

To a Young Pharaoh 
by Katherine Jackson

When you are at last taken upon the river
that winds deep in the earth, to the kingdom
where Osiris awaits his tribute of grain,
fatted geese, pomegranates, and wine, be sure
to protect yourself: bring daggers
and whetted spears, guardian monkeys
and crocodiles—mummified, for dangerous spirits
flicker like marshfire along the way.

                                                      Bring, too,
all you will need for your arrival: pendant
amulets of blue faience, precious oils in vessels
of alabaster, to anoint your sweet-smelling body
when it is unwrapped on the Other Shore.
One of the retinue buried beside you, he whom
you have chosen, will perform this rite; another
will clothe you in a fresh tunic, woven of flax
gathered from fields washed by the Nile. A third
will place the ceremonial headdress, to show
King Osiris you, too, are a god, descended
from the river,

                      who has come in a ship
driven by twenty oarsmen, while at the prow,
three seers, priests from the temple of Isis,
watched for the flash of the watersnake,
interpreted the curve of the bow-wave,
the nameless haloes of the night.

                                                  He will not
disbelieve you, who kneel in submission
to the laws of his kingdom. Present to him
the long scroll that has foretold your journey,
the bright grain.

(Copyright © 1996 by Katherine Jackson.)

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Learning to Sketch Carmella’s Garden 
by Katherine Jackson

Sun, clearing the rooftop, whitens a soil-patch, builds geometries of shade
      against the shingles while roses toss from a lattice, flaunt their difficult
hues. Pinks, greens. Greens are the hardest—those in the box, ready-made,
      won’t work for a leaf or stem—you mix them out of the colors of earth, sea,
and sun. A spade, shoved in the loam (hastily, from the look of its tilt), glints
      where digging has polished it. Someone could use it—and the pitch-fork,
near the edge, as of consciousness, of their picture. We learn to include,
      include, nothing is sacred, all fair game for these rudimentary stabs,
pastel-thrusts, not of meaning, probably not of art, more likely of pleasure,
      in the shape of facts so often overlooked. See! they blend, one into another:
sun into sky (Carmella is fetching a hat), leaves into soil, a great drenching
      of photons pours these color-objects: bush, wall, path, back door,
cactus—spines and all—in a pot, once the eye meets, the hand or voice speaks
      them, hand, voice, eye, mind, and, yes, Old Sol, who crosses our path with
well-timed indifference, the casual spilling of an ancient who knows in a garden
      there is no fixed perspective. Thoughtless within our coronas of thought,
we rub and erase, ply and apply, rose madder, Naples yellow, phthalo blue,
      anything but green: we are planting now, we are photosynthesis. In the hour’s
meridian, we smudge our deliberate smudges, our own recognizable, ancestral
      bodings, leaf-clumps we have carried within from the seed of our own
planting, figures for knowledge and the knowledge of knowledge, as the mind
      twists upward and outward, away from itself, craving the sun, yet poised
with the earth’s curve, seeing and scene, in the welter of green of its mixing.

(This poem was published in Partisan Review.
Copyright © 1995 by Katherine Jackson.)

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Blue Spring 
by Katherine Jackson 
—for Amy Clampitt

Limestone country—palmetto, tupelo, longleaf pine. Underground, a connected
freshwater hydrology fends off the invasion of salt. Natural springs feed the river

which flows north, deposits equable waters in the intemperate sea. When a kingfisher
dives—moss drapes the live-oak boughs that lean over the current—ripples ring,

gradual, silver, concentrically rocking. The springs maintain a constant warmth, 72°.
All year they seep from aquifers, form shallow pools, clear, blue-green, and here

the manatee loll, waiting out winter, nosing downriver to munch water plants,
paddling home to bask, mingle, upturn white bellies, scarred backs. Come May,

they venture to open waters, never far from the surface, where propellors slice,
will kill, most of them (it's Manatee Awareness Day). What a gambit, then,

to touch and be touched by the bulbous snout, vestigial trunk of this elephant's cousin,
who slides beneath our canoe, back and forth, coming up—for air and a view of us—

after each pass. The sun pours down like rain. I peer into a dark, dime-sized eye:
does she think we're a manatee-like, canoe-creature ourselves, with our three heads

—miraculous, in some impossible, triune way? We try all our lives to be human.
She exhales with a snort, stares long at each of us. Are we a manatee, or is she

part human, a selkie, come to tell us that amphibious is the materia of creation,
how water and land become one another, and the sea is the bourne the soul must cross

on the way to translation, how it tosses up, willy nilly, its hydra-headed mystery, being,
that sends Victorians to the hills with their chisels, or down into sea-caves, plump

sages to scale golden screes, how an elephant bearing a lotus flower is Bodhisattva,
heavenly messenger, descending from upper air in a shower of blossoms? There are

flaps to her nostrils, whereas we have speech, that guides then leaves us in a mute world
where we flounder, or else begin to swim.

(This poem originally appeared in Verse.
Copyright © 1993 by Katherine Jackson.)

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Going Home 
by Katherine Jackson

In Rhode Island, fleets of sailboats
drift in their berths,
the empty pods of summer.

We speed through yellow-ochre leaves,
scattered by the hurrying train—casual
gestures of abandon.

The water stands in bays and estuaries,
moulten silver, and the marshes flare,
as if with an inviting fever.

Nor are the herons unnerved by the racketing
train, ankle-deep among grasses, awaiting
the submerged tickle of a minnow.

The train is bright with jaded-looking
travelers, and out the window, intermittent
downtowns flame weakly
in the orange glow of anti-crime lamps.
Momentary avenues. Backs of warehouses.
When I decide to read, I find, with pleasure,
I have brought already-read books,
that they suffice. Have I gotten so old as to read
everything differently? Can I start over again—on books,
on streetlamps, on travel? Like Thoreau,
have I only to turn around once in this world
to be lost? "Soul"—the word flutters up
as if it had hovered in my thoughts,
a bat in a disused nave, now awakened, startled,
a ghost-guide in the welling darkness, leading…where?
Towards an opening out, a Matisse-window,
with palm trees and a gauze of light? And through the visible?
What region of unknowing gives rise to dreams and breathing,
to longing, its glorious misinterpretations—
carnal love, or opera,
cities we call Providence, New Haven?
In a dorm-room, thirty years ago,
a "college girl" who had just discovered music,
I heard a flute become a goldfinch.

By the East River marshes, everyone grows silent,
the great buildings loom across fields
of track, switchings and shuntings,
overhead webs of electric wire.
Then rises the excited twittering of a species or tribe
nearing its common destination. A young man with earphones,
kneeless black jeans, clicks and clicks his automatic camera.

                                       Crossing to Manhattan,
my reflection greets me amid darkness,
superimposed on fleeting,
almost imagined shapes. I am moving too,
of course, but apparently still—
quite convincingly still—
until the mind starts bending towards arrival.

(Copyright © 1997 by Katherine Jackson.)

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