LAST EVENING, AT SUPPER

Standard

who wondered who
sat in my place that moment
there among the passing
soup bowls
plates of prawns—

whose head was bowed for grace?

above the oaken board
the wine, the bread,
a waft of tarragon
married the onion’s pungency
in a half-lit phenomenon of
dread that I could not retrace

the hand lifting my spoon
looked like my grandma’s hand—
how did that happen?
when?
she is long gone

am I living her again?

companions became colored fog
and I heard nothing that was said
around the room
until—
napkins wiping mouths—

the noisy
pushing back of chairs
the rattling plates on plates
the crumbs
the broom
.
.
LAST EVENING, AT SUPPER

79 responses »

  1. I read and gave a “huh” of approval and thought, “God, that sounds like my father”. At the risk of being corny: you have a talent for evocation – an E-vocation (get it?) 🙂 Each week your poem is the highlight of new discoveries for me.

  2. A lot of stuff going on in my head as I listened to this and then reread. Both times I have Owen’s words: ‘what passing bells for those who die as cattle’ sounding unbidden in my head at your opening lines. Then my mother’s hands – that I now own – veined and knotted, though hers were daintier than mine. All those other-state moments that you get when you are in a crowd of people and make a quiet withdrawal to look at them from outside, perhaps when they are drinking and you not… as I said, lots going on in my head.

    • I am always fascinated to know what kinds of thoughts a poem of mine evokes. Thank you for telling me about your own, Hilary.. I find those passing bells especially interesting.

  3. A masterpiece ,”Grandma’s hand ,she lives again.”The true reflection of this time we are living in.I wish Abraham Lincoln was alive today. Greetings.

  4. You capture the progression of the meal well. As did all your readers, I loved the reference to Grandma’s hands which ARE my hands now. I also enjoyed the reference to the broom at the poem’s conclusion – so necessary when there are grandchildren the table and an expert way to conclude the poem. I enjoyed this one for the way that you immortalize an almost ordinary event with a touch of sadness – a frequent ingredient adding to the magic of your poetry. I’m glad that your commentary is always up beat indicating that your poet’s voice hasn’t eclipsed you joux de vivre. One of these days I’d love to learn how you manage the recordings of your voice – I enjoy hearing you read your work – it adds another dimension. Thank you!.

    • Hello Jane. Isn’t it disconcerting about the hands? I do remember being fascinated by my grandmother’s hands when I was a child, and it’s true that I own them now.

      I always chuckle about your mentions of sadness, but you do pinpoint something that is true, in that it abides, it is a resident sadness that never leaves, even when the surface is bubbly and happy, and is indeed the source of the poetry—as well as the impetus to humor, I think.

      Thank you for your kind words about the audio. I use a small, hand held digital recorder—the kind people use on the go, to record lectures and interviews— and just read the poem aloud as I sit in my recliner chair. Then I plug it into my laptop USB port and my iTunes app turns it into an Mp3 which is pretty easy to add to the edit page of WordPress with the “add media” option when I’m typing the poem for a post…it’s not the most wonderful,professional recording that could be, but then, my technical savoir faire is incredibly limited!

      Thank you for your very rich and delightful comment. 🙂

  5. The distraction of
    “the hand lifting my spoon
    looked like my grandma’s hand—
    how did that happen?”
    and the wandering of thoughts to elsewhere resonates. Moments such as these abduct us to other times and places. About a decade ago, a photo my husband had taken of me in the Pembroke forests stopped me in my tracks, so much like my maternal grandmother in face I’d become.

    And your “companions” would have no idea of your thoughts. 😀

    • I like your use of the word “abduct” here, because that’s just how it feels….spooky…when these kinds of moments occur. Once, when I was still a young adult, I saw my grandmother in my face as it was reflected in a bathtub faucet, like a funhouse mirror, and that was really unnerving! It’s as if one is suddenly transported out of time.

    • Funny how that grandmother returns to visit, isn’t it….Somewhere along the line in our conversations, Barbara, I acquired the name Janet, and I’m curious to know how that happened. It’s especially strange because I’ve just recently become acquainted with the writing of Janet Frame, that wonderful New Zealand author….is her Janet taking over my Cynthia persona? I once had a classmate named Judy, but I always mistakenly called her Betty, only because she just looked like a Betty to me….Life is strange. 🙂

      • I’m so sorry Cynthia, you seem like a Janet, (which was my grandmother’s second name).
        Sometimes on the computer I get quite carried away and I’m sorry that I confused your name. I do enjoy your poems and stories. Janet Frame is an interesting author, but I hadn’t superimposed her persona onto you! I like the way you called Judy, Betty!! ❤

        • No harm done, Barbara. As I mentioned, I’ve done the same kind of thing. What matters is that we enjoy visiting and reading about each other’s interests and lives….despite the vagaries of dealing with the computer! ❤ 🙂

  6. Oh this is excellent Cynthia. I must find news words to describe your poetry. 😊 I love every tiny bit of this but won’t attempt to expand on it as I can’t concentrate on anything much at the moment. I fell massively on Monday evening, typical MS fall simply from losing balance. Badly wrenched back, huge bruises etc etc and a mountain or three of pain which hasnt moved as yet. Your poem was a great distraction xx

    • I am sitting here wishing I had words to comfort, or make you laugh, but the well is dry. There had better be a huge upswing coming your way after this one, Chris. I know you have developed resources, physical and spiritual, which will help you climb this mountain, AGAIN, but that’s what it is….another fucking mountain! Please take care, be still, know that there are so many of us out here holding you in our hearts.xx

      • Thanks Cynthia and thank you for swearing so beautifully too. I know I couldn’t hear you and yet I could. So it was a real comfort as Im sick of listening to my own expletives. But there’s something so satisfying in them somehow.

        By the way, I may be insane too as I also thought of The Last Supper with Christ at the head of the table in a white robe with a red thingy (word please) over the top of it. 😊

  7. Prosaic though ethereal. Quite an accomplishment!

    My mind (oh so fragile) sees your title and truncates it (without asking for permission) to the ‘last supper,’ and I am expecting Judas and some other notable figures. Luckily most of your readers are sane and are not so easily encumbered by marginal associations.

    But I also had to think of our mutual friend Oscar Wilde. Your hands have an independent existence and that evoked, for me, Dorian Gray. We say we have a mental picture (a memory), but it isn’t really a picture–it’s so malleable. And yet there is a kernel of truth in what you say since young and old (Janus-faced poles) are a continuum, and memory serves as the dial. Perhaps this is getting too philosophical for a poem about the last supper–oh, I’ve done it again… Nevertheless and undeniably, the ability to educe deep, subcutaneous thinking is the sign of great poetry, and for this I thank you sincerely.

    • Your mind most fragile is a delicate and rare instrument. In fact, the first draft of this poem was written this April past, on Maundy Thursday,

      It puzzled me, and I put it aside until now, with very little revision, among my “slight” and moody pieces. Maybe I was trying to distance it from that association. But your comment brings it back, and I am very moved by what you say. “Malleability” of the mental picture is just right. Perhaps we are both insane. ( But often enjoyably so!) Thanks, friend.

      • Perhaps we are both insane…

        As infants we were probably, sad to say, dropped on our heads. This would explain quite a lot.

        My earliest recollection of being dropped was when my mother, ensconced in a coppery arm chair, swaddled infant at her breast, was told she had won the lottery. The hardwood paneling hurt, at first, but the pain soon dissipated, and after the trepidatious throng of money-grubbing relatives had left, I was collected from the floor. Then, about two years later, there was the elevator shaft incident.

        Everyone has a story and I expect yours is similar in flavor (albeit different in texture).

        • And now I’m wondering, what is the flavor of concussion? I do recall texture. In my case it’s broken glass, metal, and hardwood. Though I was not dropped, I was pushed, by my brother, through a set of French doors that happened to be closed, and woke up with a bloody head, on a couch, asking the proverbial “Where am I?” Then there was the twirling en pointe when I was too young to even be wearing those hard-toe ballet slippers which resulted in a faint, and a bump against the metal barre on the way to the floor. Maybe the flavor of concussion is something tannic? resinous?….nah…probably more like coconut.

          • And now, for the foreseeable future, you will be reliving every scrape or stub–and asking yourself, was this where it all started? Was this when the Orphean angel visited me? Was that fall from Mount Parnassus (your high-chair) really that significant?

            • Well, my dear Prospero, I probably will…and it probably was.. and for a little while I could blame you and your mephistophilean spells for setting me onto that bad habit; but eventually my trusty innate aversion to navel-gazing will allow me, in matters that really matter, to remain uninterested, if not oblivious, to the causes and blames for my insanity.

              • Again, I fear the walls will be closing in–a regular delusion of mine with no basis in reality, other than the issue of poor wordpressian workmanship (I think there are gerbils under the hood), which only serves, with its cheesy, low-tech narrowing, to tickle and tantalize a mere approximation of my delusion. And that, dear Cynthia, is not insanity–only a shot across the bow, so to speak.

                Can you imagine, the ubiquitous wordpress dictionary (operated by an erudite cadre of gerbils–or some undisclosed member of the rodent family) does not know the adjective ‘wordpressian!’

                • Actually, it’s partly my fault…I could choose to cut down on the number of possible replies, or update my theme (ain’t gonna do THAT) I do like that new coinage…what is it now.. a gerbil word? wordprussian?

                • Actually, I think they are European Snow Voles and not gerbils.

                  But I would miss the quaint narrowing if it were to disappear (another sign of madness). So don’t change a thing.

  8. Always so eloquent and evocative Cynthia – all been said so well in the previous comments. I don’t always read others comments except to your poems. The poems, the comments and your effervescent self make each post an experience, an event!
    I am intrigued by the ‘half-lit phenomenon of
    dread that I could not retrace’ – the tarragon and onion pungency, your grandmother’s hands, or something else? – a lost memory perhaps? It has an almost eerie quality for me!
    Lovely poem. The mundane made mortal and the leftover bits swept away! Brilliant Cynthia!

    • What you say about reading comments really pleases me, Rob. I have been lately torn, this way and that, about whether to just quit the whole blogging thing…how “likes” and comments and stats operate on the ego, and how much time can be wasted if one gets too caught up in all the hype and stress of posting—too much or too little—as we cruise along the wordpress way.

      I started my blog in order just to get my poems read by someone other than myself 🙂 and it’s been an enlightening experience. I really appreciate hearing a response to my work, and to me that means conversation, so I’m always happy when the comments move beyond praise and thank-you into just talking about how a poem strikes someone personally, or technically, or philosophically. I’m always glad when readers feel easy enough not to worry about what to say, but just respond, authentically.

      The internet is such a new thing, and hard to know how to handle for most of us, especially we oldies. To meet wonderful people and seemingly kindred souls that we never actually touch or see or hear in person, is indeed strange and new for us humans.

      A long winded way of saying I am delighted with your whole comment, and glad you found that eerie lost-memory quality in the poem, and thank you!

      • Yes, Cynthia, I can totally relate to the ego getting caught up in the whole likes and follows issue! I did up until a few weeks ago. I have decided to retain some rhythm in my posting – a Monday, Wednesday and Friday – simply because my brain is a systematic kind of brain and without a pattern I would procrastinate. So, this instils some discipline for me plus gives those who do enjoy reading my work an idea of when there will be new ones to read.
        I also find it strange to interact without any other sense of a person other than their words and my feelings. Maybe this is evolution for the human – to move beyond the body and touch soul to soul. I do so hope so!
        The trick with all this technology is not to lose the conversation – something that is a process but seems to be happening.
        We’ll watch this space shall we! 🙂

  9. Hello my friend, so good to read your work again – hope this finds you well and enjoying the warmer weather. Memories past from my Mother to our dinner meals – brilliantly written as it took me to just the other day as I looked into the mirror and I saw my Mothers’ eyes staring back at me and then I looked down at my hands and did indeed see her hands. A touch of sadness as I missed my Mother at that moment, while distance and her faulty memory creates a void – our calls become ever so precious. I so identified with your lines – great to be back!

    • It’s so very nice to see you back in circulation, Mary. I missed you, and your beautiful artwork. We’ve had very nice weather, for the most part, in June but you know from experience how Maine is. Now the fingers are crossed against the muggies for the rest of the summer.The damp makes it even more painful to walk, with my arthritis, and I do want to get to the ocean before long. I’m contemplating a move to the Brunswick area, where I can think more about writing and less about taking care of a house. But I’ll probably wait to see my pets through to a peaceful end. To know what you are going through with your mother is heartbreaking…..but when were we ever secure against getting our hearts broken? I’m glad you like the poem and I’m glad you’re back!

      • You are so special, thank you Cynthia and so right. Ah Bowdoin is an awesome college, Brunswick is a most perfect spot – had many clients in that area. Our next door neighbors moved into one of the retirement communities there to take advantage of the convenience and being at Bowdoins doorstep. We lived downeast from there in Cumberland Foreside, another favorite spot of mine. I think you’ll be totally refreshed moving closer to the ocean, as the place will yield creative spurts of energy that will take you to new heights (even possible for Cynthia, I don’t know, but you understand). Great to hear from you and hear/read your incredible works again ~ take care my friend.

    • I find it interesting that you find those questions in the “dread,” Babe. Your answers are as good as any. I followed your blog plug and very much enjoyed your post on “grandma’s hands.” Thank you.

      • Thank YOU: For reading the post, for the compliment, and, because your reading the post led to my re-reading it and discovering that the Gil Scott-Heron version of Bill Wither’s great song about his grandma can no longer be viewed by US readers. In case you were also unable to listen, here is Mr. Withers himself.

    • Thank you, Catherine. I know you are anxious to have your “southern” voice” accompany your exquisite stories. It really is there, in the wonderful writing that you do. But I will email you about the nuts and bolts of getting the audio into your posts. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. As a child of the manse, I’d find myself deposited on the (usually oaken) chair at (a usually too high) table at ‘company’s house’, expected to pass through the meal as though not quite alive–sort of mildly embalmed or fermenting, like the geriatric Christians surrounding me. Almost always came out a question or statement which scuppered my mother’s hopes for a ‘nice time’. At a particularly well off home, I announced, ‘look! REAL butter!’, to which I was told through tight lips, ‘it isn’t real butter, Lance. It’s…just….butter.’ On another occasion, taking care not to point but rather surreptitiously nod across at our hostess’ hands, whispered, “See? Mrs. Otterstetter has liver spots, too.”

    And now so do I. In spades. Along with puckery butcher paper skin, and veins as big as earth worms and about the same colour. I think it’s a fitting punishment, don’t you, Cynthia? My mother is no doubt smiling down and nodding and shaking her head in turns.

    Those meals we’ve sat through not quite hearing the goings on–possibly the overall interweaving of familiar voices together becoming the elixir we’re drinking? Who needs to know what’s being said when we’re so taken with just having made it so far so good–that we’re actually there.

    What stirrings you create when you write. … joys of our reading… treasured stanzas for our listening.

    • Oh, Lance….I hope you harbor thoughts of writing about your experiences as a child surrounded by and constrained by, conventions that were simply incomprehensible to an active, honest, curious, child-mind.

      Your stories are heartbreaking, and funny. And the light, knowing, artist’s touch, that is so wonderful in your watercolour paintings—-is it translatable into words? I wonder, but I think so.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for your wonderful comment.

  11. You give me goosebumps. You are so good.
    “the hand lifting my spoon
    looked like my grandma’s hand—
    how did that happen?
    when?
    she is long gone”
    And all the bits that remind me of a reincarnated, female, brillant, but unique in your own, TS Elliot……
    “companions became colored fog
    and I heard nothing that was said
    around the room
    until—
    napkins wiping mouth”
    You are marvelous.

    • My grandma would be so delighted to read what you say here, were she alive….but then my mother would say….tsk..tsk…you’re going to give the girl a swelled head! I am deeply happy that you find such good things in my poem, Cindy, and thank you very much for saying so.

  12. A poem that leaves you with such a clear sense of atmosphere–of a distinct time and place, and the person in the moment–is a real treat. Thank you, Cynthia.

  13. Terrific, Cynthia. Reminds me of an “out of body” experience I had as a teenager half a century ago, when I seemed to watch from the ceiling as I played cards with a bunch of mates one lunchbreak, a little column of coins on the table beside my open pack of sandwiches.

    Yesterday evening I was at a Summer WordFest event and only wish you could have been there to read this poem. You’d have gone down a storm.

    My very best,

    Paul

    • That’s exactly it, Paul, an ‘out of body’ experience…I like that image of playing cards and watching oneself from the ceiling!

      You seem to attend readings and things like that Summer WordFest quite often. There are no such events around here, so I envy you that. It would be fun to “go down a storm” once in a while, or at least test the waters that way.

      Thank you as always for your kind words.

    • I’m sorry it made you sad and empty, Frank. But it was only for a moment… one of those moments that just “happen” sometimes. Sorry I haven’t been over to comment recently, though I have been reading your posts. I have been unwell and conserving energy, so keeping up with the comments here has become the priority. You should be getting some very interesting results to your new challenge!

  14. Goodness, I thought I’d come over to see what’s on your blog after watching you joust with Bruce. Here was this layered poem about a meal, and wandering off in your head, and aging in language that sparked images and associations and reminded me that the reason I read so little poetry in comparison to fiction is that, unlike fiction, I reread it. And it bears rereading as this poem does, giving up more each time. And your laughing flowers reminded me of a dream Emerson noted in one of his journals wherein he ate the world. In one gulp, I think. Now there’s an appetite.

    • A treat to see your comment here, after enjoying many of your comments on some of the blogs we both follow. I’ve been to browse on your site and very much enjoyed what I read. I’m glad my poems here inspired rereading. I think that’s what I like about poetry, the slow, pensiveness.
      And I hadn’t heard that bit about Emerson…that’s really funny!

  15. It’s really beautiful Cynthia. Meal gatherings will never be the same for me now. I will be unsure of whether memories become daydreams or the other way around. Perhaps a little mixing of both dimensions 🙂 I love how you don’t remember the details and what was said, your thoughts wandering unaware of real time until the broom sweeps you back to the present. Where does the time go?

    • It is so good to see you back in the swim! I have been somewhat aware of what you’ve been up to, since I try to keep tabs on Outlier Babe and have read somewhat of you there.

      Your remarks about this poem are quite gratifying…the insights of a fellow poet. I hope things continue on the upswing. (and I like that new gravatar!)

  16. Old age seems so far off and distant when we are but a few decades into this life. But oh, how it rushes without brakes to transform us into those who we found beguiling. Life is finite. Life is taunting. And one day we wake up to silver hair and sun spots. Where is the youth we feel in our hearts?

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