For National Poetry Month: "History," "Monotheism in Kentucky, Present Time," "My Aunt Fanny," "A Translation"

A selection of new poetry by Maurice Manning.

By Maurice ManningApril 21, 2014

    For National Poetry Month: "History," "Monotheism in Kentucky, Present Time," "My Aunt Fanny," "A Translation"


    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.


    A Translation
    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.


    LARB Contributor

    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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