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Poetry Friday

I love poetry that plays with language that may or may not have a referent in reality. New worlds—created by words — intersect seamlessly with the familiar. This is what’s going on in Patricia Fargnoli’s haunting poem “Glosa.”

With the opening stanza, we seem to be in a natural scene that we could recognize—an especially luscious one. The poem’s speaker is standing in a river “waiting / for you to come say your name in my ear.” Addressing a “you” is common in poetry, but toward the end of the second stanza, we’re forced to wonder about the reality of this “you”: “Although you came to me, I couldn’t understand you. / … Were you only a mirage?”

The third stanza, with “you” gone “in silence,” slides us into (literally) marvelous images. The speaker finds “a sad music in the fork of an ash tree / a music made of wind and the tuning forks of stars.” Here is the seamless joining of worlds that I mentioned as poetry’s special feature: the wind making music is a familiar conceit, but those startling tuning forks of stars are definitely other-worldly. To top off this delightful image, the speaker “captured the notes” and put them in her backpack.

The final stanza is then presented as a sort of summary of the poem’s events and an interpretation of them. The mysterious “you” is at the stanza’s center—but mostly in negative terms.

You told me no answers;
you were dream and thunder; you never knew me.
When you rode away, I felt no transformation
There was nothing and no one to blame.

Yet the poem ends with a “reach” for something positive: for a spiritual hope. Spiritual terms enter briefly in the second stanza, which begins with the speaker “saying prayers like wishes” and then concedes “I know that prayers have no real answers / that the fabric of my faith’s frayed but not riven.” But listen to the poem’s final three lines:

Still there’s something I reach for,
some lost part of my spirit I want to reclaim.
I’ve never forgotten your name.

The unnamed “you” has been at the core of the poem’s mystery. But here at the end there’s the slightest hint that “you” might be divine.

One more feature I note of Fargnoli’s poem: The italicized line I just quoted follows a pattern in the poem: each stanza ends with a line from Thomas Merton’s poem “In Memory of the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca.” Not only that: the final word of each of these lines is rhymed (or slant-rhymed) with the final word of the previous line. This is the poem’s only rhyming, so it stands out. What it does, I sense, is pull the whole poem into Merton’s four lines. Or, rather, the reverse: it’s through these four lines that the drama of Fargnoli’s poem emerges.

Which brings us, finally, to the title. “Glosa” refers to an invented language—created (presumably) as a way for all the world’s speakers to understand each other. Communication—and its failure—is indeed at the heart of Faragnoli’s poem.


“Glosa,” by Patricia Fargnoli

On lines from “In Memory of the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca” 
by Thomas Merton

Where the white bridge rears up its stamping arches
Proud as a colt across the clatter of the shallow river,
The sharp guitars
Have never forgotten your name.

I stood up to my knees in the April river
and the foam swirled like a lover around me
and didn’t each species of tree and bush
blend into each other and didn’t the sky come down
with its rose aurora as the clouds
descended in fragments and patches?
In the midst of all nature I stood there waiting
for you to come say your name in my ear.
I am the woman who sings and watches
where the white bridge rears up its stamping arches.

When I’d stood for hours saying prayers like wishes,
when the gentle light had entered my body,
didn’t you come on your ten-hands-high stallion
riding down the gorge from the farther highlands?
I know that prayers have no real answers
that the fabric of my faith’s frayed but not riven.
Although you came to me, I couldn’t understand you.
You brought no resolutions. Were you only a mirage?
Your mount, though, forged gamely into the silver
proud as a colt across the clatter of the shallow river.

As soon as you had come you galloped off in silence.
I was left on my own by the rapacious river
and how should I live then with no one to stay by me?
So I turned and left through the dark of the valley
and found a sad music in the fork of an ash tree
a music made of wind and the tuning forks of stars
I captured the notes and put them in my backpack,
carried the songs to play at the sad café, and there they spar
with a dancer on fire and the sharp guitars.

Where the white bridge rears up to its stamping arches,
once you came clattering on a pure black stallion.
You rode out of storm but you told me no answers;
you were dream and thunder; you never knew me.
When you rode away, I felt no transformation
There was nothing and no one to blame.
Still there’s something I reach for,
some lost part of my spirit I want to reclaim.
I’ve never forgotten your name.


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