remember those emergency lanterns?

Feb 17, 2022 poetry appreciation

The ones Libby Purves referred to when she spoke of how poetry could function? Well, for me this poem, ‘testify‘ by Eve L Ewing, is a great emergency lantern. Does it shine a light for you?

There is such a wonderful energy in this poem. It has a determination to be glad and thankful which I find uplifting because it’s not Pollyanna-ish or romanticised—’chain link fences’ and ‘metal shapes’: the images couldn’t be more urban and prosaic—yet also manages to be convincing. The poem testifies not just to the gift of being alive but to the sometimes miraculous-seeming power of presence—real, pores-wide-open, senses on full alert, aware of, alive-to everything presence. (I’m not going to call it mindfulness because that word gets overused, but you know what ‘m saying.) Being in the now, truly in the moment, can be alchemical; as here where ‘metal shapes’ allow a recognition of the ‘golden’. The poem also witnesses what it is to encounter those who (in spite of? because of?) their circumstances manage to find and share the joy of being alive. The ‘man who wore the walk/ of hard grounds & lost days’ lifts the poet; lifts us.

And so the poem itself is the ‘horn r[ising], an organ, a voice, a chorus, here to tell/ you that we are not dead’. The ‘dead/yet’ of the final two lines grounds the poem, whispers of the facts—and I wonder if it was written during the pandemic, given the copyright date—but also reminds us that light is light only because of the existence of dark. Life shines (or can do) because of death. That’s the deal.

So I’m reminded to marvel at the rain being flung against my window, the wind capering in the trees, the mud-skiddy paths over which I’ve been sliding and skittering this past few days, grumbling to myself as I all too often do. Tomorrow maybe I’ll manage to lift my face to the rain, and testify.

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