Forche, Carolyn: Poet of Witness

I first came across Carolyn Forche in her illuminating craft talk at the Dodge Poetry Festival online during the pandemic. She had some great tips. Here’s a poem by her.

The Testimony Of Light by Carolyn Forche

Our life is a fire dampened, or a fire shut up in stone.
–Jacob Boehme, De Incarnatione Verbi

Outside everything visible and invisible a blazing maple.
Daybreak: a seam at the curve of the world. The trousered legs of the women
They held their arms in front of them like ghosts.

The coal bones of the house clinked in a kimono of smoke.
An attention hovered over the dream where the world had been.

For if Hiroshima in the morning, after the bomb has fallen,
is like a dream, one must ask whose dream it is. {1}

Must understand how not to speak would carry it with us.
With bones put into rice bowls.
While the baby crawled over its dead mother seeking milk.

Muga-muchu {2}: without self, without center. Thrown up in the sky by a wind.

The way back is lost, the one obsession.
The worst is over.
The worst is yet to come.

1–…is the question asked by Peter Schwenger in Letter Bomb.
Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word.
2–…is from Robert Jay Lifton’s Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima.

I love the line ‘Daybreak: a seam at the curve of the world.’ Also kimono to describe the smoke. Unusual, and gives a local flavour.

I like this one too of hers.

The Ghost of Heaven 

Sleep to sleep through thirty years of night,

a child herself with child,

for whom we searched

through here, or there, amidst

bones still sleeved and trousered,

a spine picked clean, a paint can,

a skull with hair

Sewn into the hem of memory:


God of AbrahamGod of IsaacGod of Jacob,

God not

of philosophers or scholars. God not of poets.

Night to night:

child walking toward me through burning maize

over the clean bones of those whose flesh

was lifted by zopilotes into heaven.

So that is how we ascend!

In the clawed feet of fallen angels.

To be assembled again

in the work rooms of clouds.

She rose from where they found her lying

not far from a water urn, leaving

herself behind on the ground

where they found her, holding her arms

before her as if she were asleep.

That is how she appears to me: a ghost in heaven.

Carrying her arms in her arms.

Blue smoke from corn cribs, flap of wings.

On the walls of the city streets a plague of initials.

Walking through a fire-lit river

to a burning house: dead Singer

sewing machine and piece of dress.

Outside a cashew tree wept

blackened cashews over lamina.

Outside paper fireflies rose to the stars.

Bring penicillin if you can, surgical tape, a whetstone,

mosquito repellent but not the aerosol kind.

Especially bring a syringe for sucking phlegm,

a knife, wooden sticks, a surgical clamp, and plastic bags.

You will need a bottle of cloud

for anesthesia.

Like the flight of a crane

through colorless dreams.

When a leech opens your flesh it leaves a small volcano.

Always pour turpentine over your hair before going to sleep.

Such experiences as these are forgotten

before memory intrudes.

The girl was found (don’t say this)

with a man’s severed head stuffed

into her where a child would have been.

No one knew who the man was.

Another of the dead.

So they had not, after all,

killed a pregnant girl.

This was a relief to them.

That sound in the brush?

A settling of wind in sorghum.

If they capture you, talk.

Talk. Please yes. You heard me

right the first time.

You will be asked who you are.

Eventually, we are all asked who we are.

All who come

All who come into the world

All who come into the world are sent.

Open your curtain of spirit.

“Sewn in the hem of memory.” What a line! And similar to the gem I pointed out in the previous poem I shared.

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z 2023.

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