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Monday, April 3, 2017

Ode to My Smultronställe

There's been a long-running debate between the members of my innermost artistic circle (by which I mean my wife and me) about whether there are ever circumstances in which it is appropriate to weigh a poem down with an overly abstruse or foreign word reference.  For the most part I believe it's important for poems to be readily apprehensible but nonetheless think it is not only appropriate but sometimes necessary to use a recondite word or two (like a Yiddishism) when alternative phrasings simply won't do.  My wife is adamant in the view that there should be no exceptions to the general rule.

The Swedish word smultronställe provides a good example of why I find an obscure word is sometimes essential to a poem.  It means a secret spot or place of hidden delight. If you're Swedish, I suppose, it's the way you describe a clearing in the forest where you find a trove of lingonberries. As far as I know there is no single word in any other language to convey this very beautiful idea.  The obscurity of the word is really part of its meaning because it describes a beauty that no one else (except for the birds and bears) is ever likely to fully share.   I often feel that way about my home on Long Island's east end - a location that is filled with a plenitude of hidden and ephemeral beauty - My sense of this hidden beauty goes back to the very first summer I spent on Fire Island where I discovered a vast cache of blueberries right in the backyard.  Ah the fish-shaped Paumonok, mighty Long Island, home to Levittown, Amy Fisher and the Walt Whitman Mall in Melville, for me it's been a sun-drenched smultronställe all the same.

This poem was written for a group reading at the Parrish Art Museum that I will be participating in this coming Friday - April 7th.  You can read more about the Parrish reading here.

Ode to My Smultronställe 

Take your pictures
Star collect your memes
We’re battered not broken
Still made whole
By our dreams

My story
Your story
Our story
Spoken in circles
What the echoes make clear
Is that we’re not exactly concentric
As the sound waves propagate forth
Into the cool evening air
Every molecule has
Its distinctive spin

We all sense the epoch’s passage
In the deviation from
Our accustomed means
But now it’s the circumference
That’s not holding and
The center turns out
To be far more diffuse 
Than it otherwise seemed

There are no gates
No barbarians
Only two crows sitting
In the upper branches
Of a denuded red oak
Calling out to each other

Oh where is my secret garden?
Blanketed in straw today
Soon to be covered in a net
All the berries I've yearned for
In the season upcoming
A bounteous windfall 
 May surprise us yet


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