by Maggie Sawkins
In the ring around a blackbird’s eyes, find me.
In a cup of ocean, a patch of sky, find me.
On this the shortest day of winter,
in the persistence of a seagull’s cry, find me.
In a blade of grass by a dusty roadside,
in the mating song of a harvest fly, find me.
In the huddle of trees outside your window,
in the moon’s gaze and the wind’s sigh, find me.
At the top of a sugar loaf mountain
imagine rainbow wings and fly, find me.
As you cast your breath, you’ll find the answer
in the place where dreams collide, find me.
I’m really getting into Maggie’s book Many Skies Have Fallen. And I was particularly affected by ‘Find Me’. What I find so good, and moving, about this poem is the way it manages to convey feeling through rhythm, and make the simple natural scenery feel simple because it is for the speaker a lost everyday easily taken for granted in life. And yet what it evokes is anything but ‘simple’.
The poem, formally, is a kind of ghazal, an Arabic, Persian, form originally, and a kind of poem/song. Formally Find Me follows the ghazal rhyme scheme with the repeated word at the end of each first line, and internal /ai/ rhymes – ‘sky’, ‘cry’, ‘fly’, ‘sigh’ ‘fly’, collide’ and the repeated second-like rhyme of ‘find me’. The first line rhyme is done rhythmically, with the stress-unstress of ‘find me’ taken up in ‘roadside’, ‘window’, ‘mountain’ and ‘answer’. There’s also a trace of a further trait of many ghazal’s, that is the rhyme of the ‘sky’, ‘cry’ sequence of rhymes with words in the line above them, such as ‘eyes’ in the first line, ‘day’ half-rhyming with ‘cry’, ‘fly’ half-rhyming with ‘dusty’, ‘sigh’ with ‘outside, ‘collide’ with ‘find’.
The rhythm – and the form overall – are wonderfully suited to the overall ‘plea’ tone of the poem, expressed in ‘find me’, which to me also draws finely on the tone of a kind of children’s playground rhyme. Here the ‘find me’ is not a joking taunt as it might be in a children’s rhyme, but an at first mysterious plea, command even, and corresponding with the listener’s longing. How can we find him in these places when he’s left all of them behind? But, of course, that’s the point. He has left them, yes, but yet he hasn’t. That’s what grief memory is all about.
The overall rhythm, and hence of the feeling expressed, is produced by the way the poet starts each couplet with a clause about a place or time, leaving the ‘find me’ clause to the end the sentence. That is, until the last stanza where a sort of ‘solution’ is mooted. Where is ‘the place where dreams collide’? How do dreams ‘collide’?
Rhythmically the poem doesn’t follow any conventional scheme such as iambic pentameter, but does make very effective use of what Pound called ‘cadence’. So in the first line there are two cadences, one half-cadence (as we might call it) ending on ‘eyes’, then a pause, and then the final cadence of ‘find me’. Throughout the cadences are like this and marked with comma and full stop respectively. The half cadence ends of a stressed syllable which as a slightly-rising level tone, and the full cadence ends of a high fall.
In the ring around the blackbird’s eyes, find me
There are some more complex cadences, or so it seems to me, where she uses ‘and’, as in ‘the moon’s gaze and the wind’s sigh’, or ‘as you cast your breath’. Here the same half-rise occurs on both ‘gaze’ and ‘sigh’ , ‘cast’ and ‘breath’, and then the closing fall on ‘find’ and ‘answer’.
The last couplet suggests an ‘answer’ rather than a place, as in all the other couplets, where the ghostly speaker might be found. The the finding is connected to casting breath. Casting as opposed to drawing and releasing. But casting has to do with finding, ‘casting about’ here and there in all the places mentioned, all except for the sugar loaf mountain and rainbow wings, which perhaps anticipate in their supernatural imagery of wings flying to him. And this last imaginary place seems to me to introduce a possible ‘answer’ to the conundrum of the last stanza. Where dreams collide, perhaps, is in the being alive and breathing, in the mind, the imagination, which in turn is so close to memory, in turn so close to self and the sense of being alive, including being alive as a memory and/or a spirit.
A further twist in reading would be to reconsider the whole poem as if it’s spoke not, as I’ve assumed, by the spirit of the dead person, but by the poet (in whom, in another sense it necessarily is, as an act of empathy and imagination in writing in another’s voice). We read the poem as if spoken by a spirit, but we know that it’s written by the poet who is imagination, is aware of, that spirit, and giving it voice.
I hope I’ve not overegged the ‘analysis’. It’s intended as appreciation. Too much cold practical crit would be inappropriate in a poem which, though it contains its mysteries, is admirably plain and unostentatious in its presentation of the difficult-to-conceive. But, liking it, I found myself going into it. I read a comment recently by Wendy Cope who quotes with approval a poet I don’t know, called RobWells: “I find it uncanny how, the more a poem seems to reduce itself to the mere resolution of a technical problem, the more unerringly it homes in on the truth I didn’t know was there to tell.” I think that’s true of reading in its own way, too. Though, alas, these days I find so few poems I really want to delve into, as I do Find Me.
Strange that I’m reading W S Merwin’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio, which has so many pictures of the ordinary and everyday gestures and sights of people beyond any finding, and yet ‘found’ by the poet who is allowed to go through the boundary of life and death, as if poetic imagination were personified in him.
John Haynes: Winner of the Costa Award for Poetry, 2006 and the Troubadour Poetry Prize 2007, shortlisted for T S Eliot Prize, 2010