Hurry the Stone

By Melanie Noel, WITS Writer-in-Residence

 

“hurry a lion into the cage of music

hurry stone to masquerade as a recluse

moving in parallel nights

 

who’s the visitor? when the days all

tip from nests and fly down roads

the book of failure grows boundless and deep”

 

– from “New Year” by Bei Dao, translated by David Hinton and Yanbing Chen

The cormorant is a poet among seabirds. Among boobies and loons, it’s a bird of the in-between. It appears to do nothing as it lets the sun and air dry its wings. It stands there frozen in a shrug. When it speaks it sounds like the door of a haunted house arguing with a toad. It is a great diver and can migrate in flocks, but there is this time between that it stops entirely.

Nikolai Goodman, the son of poet Denise Levertov, told a story at her memorial that stays with me. He was homeschooled in their apartment in New York City. He was doing homework on the floor and looked up to see his mom staring out the window. She was staring out for a long time. He asked her, “What are you doing?” And she shushed him, not gently, and said, “I’m writing a poem.”

I felt like an alien dropped in from a remote planet at Broadview-Thomson. My hosts, almost 80 of them born around the year 2005 (and three kind teachers born after 2005), were benevolent and imaginative. They were a kind of magnificent, sometimes frustrating wilderness who listen to and worked with me, despite my greenish pallor and strange voice. We made field notes from our respective positions. I tried to tell them about a timeless future I’d found in language, and they pointed persuasively at the present.

Being busy, being assessed, and competing, seem built into the fabric of schools. There is a lot of expectation and contradiction. You’re expected to pay attention but you’re often interrupted. You could miss things while looking out a window, let alone standing still to dry your wings. Thus the danger and the urgency of poetry.

I found myself particularly touched by students’ empathy when it appeared.   It seems the closest thing to being in-between, to one of the immeasurable values of poetry, and still within institutional bounds. We used Federico García Lorca’s poem “The Little Mute Boy” as a template for writing about the senses and learning refrain. Students who could read it in Spanish read it in Spanish for the class. Here is that poem and its translation:

 

EL NIÑO MUDO

 

El niño busca su voz.

(La tenia el rey de los grillos.)

En una gota de agua

buscaba su voz el nino.

 

No la quiero para hablar;

me hare con ella un anillo

que llevara mi silencio

en su dedo pequenito.

 

En una gota de agua

buscaba su voz el nino.

 

(La voz cautiva, a lo lejos,

se ponía un traje de grillo.)

 

THE LITTLE MUTE BOY

 

The little boy was looking for his voice.

(The king of the crickets had it.)

In a drop of water

the little boy was looking for his voice.

 

I do not want it for speaking with;

I will make a ring of it

so that he may wear my silence

on his little finger.

 

In a drop of water

the little boy was looking for his voice.

 

(The captive voice, far away,

put on a cricket’s clothes.)

 

From The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca, by Federico García Lorca, translated by W. S. Merwin, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1955 by W. S. Merwin.

 

In Mr. Beers’s attentive and inquisitive class, Jeremy asked, “why would the boy give his voice to the cricket? That doesn’t make any sense.” It was a good question and a good point. I echoed the question back out and Ali, from the back of the room, answered, “maybe he knows the cricket needs it more than he does.”

Here is Ali’s poem:

 

The girl was looking for her sight.

The star-nosed mole king had it.

In a glass marble

the girl was looking for her sight.

 

I do not want it for seeing with;

I will make a bracelet of it

so that the star-nosed mole may wear my sight

on his arm.

 

In a glass marble

the girl was looking for her sight.

(The captive sight, far away,

put on a star-nosed mole’s clothes.)

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One Response to “Hurry the Stone”

  1. Erin Malone Says:

    Wow! I love this!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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