For National Poetry Month: "History," "Monotheism in Kentucky, Present Time," "My Aunt Fanny," "A Translation"
By Maurice ManningApril 21, 2014
A vine, ironically, I found
that had wound around a tree and climbed
into the bloom above until
I couldn’t distinguish it from the tree
except to see it had reached beyond
and twisted merely the air before
something convinced it farther to reach
another tree, which I thought should be
an argument against the claim
of following an instinct, because
the superficial vine was bound
like a lie, how greenly it turned around
the more important tree, and then
I saw the other vine that had climbed
the first and twined together the two
so spitefully it seemed human,
and the tree from being clung to how else
but desperately reminded me
of God or how I thought of God
when I was first imagining
and seeing—when I closed my eyes
in the rocking chair and the lullaby
was sung—the other side of sleep,
and thinking, how will I get there
if that lonesome looking place is heaven,
which, dare I say it, pleases me,
the original loneliness above,
wherever it’s supposed to be,
though it’s probably a wrong conception.
Monotheism in Kentucky, Present Time
I thought of beginning this utterance
by saying I had a taste today
of pure joy, but on second thought
I’m tired of purity and now
prefer mistakes—that’s it, I made
a mistake today in tending the garden
and spreading straw around the green,
encouraging the peas to climb;
I was, in short, enjoying it
and naked to the waist was I
and then it rained and I kept on working,
believing I was giving God
a hand and then I thought, what kind
of idiot thinks he’s helping God?
My Aunt Fanny
What do you think of the tale bandied
about, the grandly elevated
tale, that’s used to justify
the unimaginable and, therefore,
the not so true? A tale that says
we must do something now, or else.
And it turns out, the bravest plan
is to do what we’ve already been doing,
only we must do it more.
The consequences will be bad,
they say—it could be anyone
who not so innocently tugs
this line of thought. It’s how we arrive
at thinking we have no other choice,
a position that requires a kind
of evidence inventively
employed. And once the dreadful thing
we could have stopped occurs, we say,
we’ve learned our lesson now and never
again—etcetera. And then
around it comes, another tale,
perhaps a plain and wrenching one.
It will be said a mother bird
must feed her young, but that won’t keep
the snake from sliding to her nest—
a nice analogy with symbols,
that says we do what we do because
it’s natural and necessary
to be afraid. To which I, who believe
in nature and have studied it
and even seen a mother bird
push a weakling from the nest
without the merest shred of grief,
I say, in nature nothing is
inevitable, it’s one surprise
followed by another and all
of it is true. Imagine that.
And anyone who thinks it could
be otherwise will always be
a destroyer and my enemy.
for Loyal Jones
So I came out of my rainy bower
covered with white petals dropped
from a tree. My people long ago
whose milky eyes I still can see
would have said I had a God’s plenty
of petals on me, an expression I liked
to hear as a boy because I knew
it pointed out the obvious only
to make it just like that completely
something else. But those people are gone
away from the world, so I had to say it
myself, the God’s plenty of petals
that fell when the little rain came down
and I happened to be under the tree.
I have no idea what plenty is
to God, but it pangs my heart to know
that someone thought about it once,
probably after a day’s work
when he was staring at a lantern
or sitting on a porch to watch
the stars enumerate themselves
and struggling to find the words
to catch it all, then finding them.
Maurice Manning is an American poet. Manning’s childhood home of Kentucky has been the inspiration for a number of his poems. Manning’s first collection of poems Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visionswon the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.
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