Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Tuesday, January 26 2021

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

Word
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Psalm 71:5

Poetry

Echo (All She Lost She Lost) by Leila Chatti (December 2020)

Published last month in Poetry Magazine, Chatti’s poem made my heart race: she writes as if she is within a world we cannot enter, a door shut to everyday life—the experience of memory loss, dementia maybe, words disappearing, falling away as if off a cliff. But, it turns out thirty year old Leila Chatti lived within that world herself. As poet Naomi Shihab Nye described in the New York Times last March, “to write a series of poems out of extreme illness is a bracing accomplishment indeed. Leila Chatti, born of a Catholic mother and a Muslim father, brilliantly explores the trauma. In a frightening two-year saga of a tumor and the ‘flooding’ it caused, Chatti finds not disassociation but deeper association with her own experience.”

Read through Echo and you’ll see the alphabet threading one line to the next. It gives form and structure to the slipping away she describes. Alphabet poetry is an ancient practice, some of the earliest examples coming from the Bible, most notably the book of Lamentations, where four out of its five chapters are acrostic. Lamentations laments the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE, a catastrophic loss that included the burning/plundering of Jerusalem, and the forced march of all Jerusalem’s elites, artists, and leaders to Babylon hundreds of miles away, an exile that lasted decades.

The alphabetic order of Lamentations becomes obscured by English renditions which leave the poetic form on the translators cutting room floor (the same might happen if Chatti’s poem were translated into French or Arabic). For both the book of Lamentations and for Chatti’s poem, the alphabet gives the reader a way to hang on through what is most certainly a harrowing experience, the fixed alphabetical order contrasting the trauma, order cutting through sorrow, a sense of balance in a world unraveling, unhinged, unbalanced.

Blessing
Structure our lives, O God, so that we might find the comfort of predictability as we navigate gratitude and grace, inexpressible grief and unspoken blessing. Amen.

Echo (All She Lost She Lost) by Leila Chatti

All she lost she lost
at once. Her mouth could no longer offer,
at breakfast, apricot,
acerbic syllables on the tongue. Acquiesce  was gone, allure
and ardent, ache  refused to be named
but remained a thorn in her
breast, breast, she couldn’t say it,
couldn’t say come
closer, couldn’t say cock or covet, blessing  or  blue, losing  beauty
didn’t so much upset her, it was a word which lessened the thing itself,
desire  was never enough for her, despair  too
enormous for language, but she rather missed
endure, missed earnest and empty, eggs and exaltation,
feelings, she discovered, were awful if solely
felt, unspoken they were egregiously real,
for reasons unknown to her, she wished very much, very often, to say
field, she just wanted to, to fill again her mouth with
grasses and excessive sadness, oh how she loved
gratitude, she would say it over and over until
her heart believed her,
it was her only prayer, she regretted never uttering
ichor when she had the chance,
intimacy was underutilized, idle, inkling,
illume, though, in truth, some things were always
ineffable, and she relieved to be relieved of the duty of  trying,
just having the basics would have sufficed, she would have gladly relinquished
jest  and   jejune and  jacaranda to keep
kindness  and kinky  and kin, lemon and  lace  and
love, perhaps this what she longed for
most, as unbearable as it was to be so
monstrously human, before, she thought maybe she was
needless, obdurate as a stone
or the wind which touched everything with a pernicious detachment,
please was the first word she attempted, in the meadow, trembling as the dark stayed terribly
quiet, she had never heard such
quiet, it was a quiet longer than death, when above her at last a storm
ruptured, she repeated keenly its howl, awash with
rage, oh, she was certain, if she could recover
suffering  she’d refuse to
say anything else for all of her days, her mouth mouthed uselessly
salt, mouthed sate, mouthed
salve, she waited in the shade for a stranger
to voice what she knew to be urgently
true, she resented both
the voice and the waiting, and the birds
their unavailing refrains,
undeserving of their instruments and uncharitably
vociferous at dawn, frogs their lubricious clamor, katydids’
violent, ubiquitous chorus, it was an error not to appreciate umbrage fully, nor vex nor
volition, she never had an occasion for virtue but
wished returned to her vainglory and vesper, wished for
waffle and wallop and wasp, why not, she wanted
want, wanted wrong, it exhausted her, her
xenogenic lexis, her inexpressible grief, what she would give to whisper
yellow  just once to what was, petals and morning
yawning brightly before her, to sigh
yes, to say  you, oh, to say you—but her maw hung open. Futile
zero, destitute.