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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Georgetown Memories (John MacKenzie)

Georgetown Memories audio recording (the poem's text can be found in the comments on this post).

This poem is a piece I worked on quite a bit a year or so ago. It is based on Li Po's Changgan Memories, best to known to the western world, I guess, in Ezra Pound's version The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter. George Elliot Clarke turned it beautifully to his own purposes in his verse novel Whylah Falls.

I worked mostly from the same source that Pound did: Ernest Fenollosa's Notebook. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out for me.

2 comments:

Humble Servant said...

I like it! Some familiarties, some changes.

Possible to get the text (in email if you don't want to publish)?

MackJohnny said...

Ask and ye shall receive (I'll put a note in the post that the text can be found here).


Georgetown Memories

When I first began to care
About how my hair would look, I sat
One day near the apple trees by our gate,
Picking and arranging flowers.
A boy came by on a high-necked horse
He made from a branch of white birch —
You rode round and round me as if I were a sun,
And the apples the small green moons of your thoughts.

We were not really strangers to each other;
Both of us born and raised in the same village.
Neither of us had any dislike for the other,
And there was no reason that day for shyness.
But on the day we were married,
A few weeks after I turned sixteen,
I found that as a wife I was too shy
To dare open my face in a smile.

Even at home together I'd sit alone
With my head bent over my embroidery.
If you spoke to me a thousand times in a day
I could not lift my eyes from the bind of stitches.
I was seventeen before I learned again
That laughing with you was a thing I loved.
I knew that day life with you was good, and I wanted
To be together with you, even as ashes and dust.

And from that day forward I knew
A faith like Gibraltar in your return.
I was never to be seen on the widow's walk
In the morning, eyes full of the empty sea.
But when I was eighteen a company clipper
Took you away to be a buyer of China tea.
I've heard even atheists will pray and pray
In fair weather near the Cape of Good Hope,
And you sailed in the changeable springtime
With its litany of names of lost ships.

From the sky every morning and evening now
I hear the numberless crows you love calling
As I stare at the path to our gate
Where on damp stones your reluctant feet
Left prints that one by one by one
Have grown up in green green moss
(Those mosses are so deep now ...
I haven't been able to wipe them away).
A few dry leaves fell this morning, and I thought
For a moment the autumn winds had come.

It is August already. Already August,
And the butterflies are yellow.
In pairs, like slow, hesitant suns, the butterflies
Dance the west meadow's grass towards yellow.
Your absence is the hard, long axis
My heart turns around, wearing and wearing.
Every day adds a line to my lament. My colour fades.
Tears score my cheeks the way rivers etch the earth.

If company business ever brings you
As near as Halifax, Boston, or New York,
Please write as soon as you know
To tell me when you will be there.
Discomfort of travel, distance from the Island
Mean nothing. I will board the first train
Or ship bound for that city
And come directly to meet you.

John MacKenzie