Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sutra - Marilyn Krysl

Looking back now, I see
I was dispassionate too often,
dismissing the robin as common,
and now can't remember what
robin song sounds like. I hoarded
my days, as though to keep them
safe from depletion, and meantime
I kept busy being lonely. This
took up the bulk of my time,
and I did not speak to strangers
because they might be boring,
and there were those I feared

would ask me for money. I was
clumsy around the confident,
and the well bred, standing on
their parapets, enthralled me,
but when one approached, I
fled. I also feared the street's
down and outs, anxious lest
they look at me closely, and
afraid I would see their misery.

I feared my father who feared
me and did not touch me,
which made me more afraid.
My mother feared him too,
and as I grew to be like him,
she became afraid of me also.
I kept busy avoiding dangers
of many colors, fleeing from
those with whom I had much

in common. Now afternoon,
one chair in the garden. Late
low light, the lilies still open,
sky beyond them preparing
to close for the night. I'd
made money, but had I kissed

a single lily? On the chair's
arm my empty cup. Its curved
lip struck, bright in late light.
I watch that last light going,
leaving behind its brief burning
which will come to nothing.

The lilies still open, waiting.

Let me be that last sliver of light.
Let me be that last gleaming sliver of silver,
there for an instant on the lily's petal,

light speaking in tongues, tongues of flame.

Marilyn Krysl (b.1942) has led a fascinating life, among other things teaching ESL in China. You can read all about her and read more of her remarkable poetry here.


  1. I found this to be a very powerful - and powerfully intimate - poem. She confronts her ghosts in a remarkably direct - and elegant - manner. I felt pulled into the poem, into it's sentiment of solitude and pain. And yet, the last few lines somehow didn't feel as honest to me, or as directly spoken. It was as though, when speaking about redemption, her words failed her. It makes me think this is so because she knows in her bones the pain she writes about, whereas she is speculating about what it would mean to escape that pain. Hence her description of the escape seems hyperbolic and inauthentic, at least to me. Still, a terrific poem.

  2. I agree with you on the last lines. I think one of the problems is that the redemption is stated in generalities, not specifics like the rest of the poem. It seems to me that all writing, but poetry specifically can drift and get sentimental when it relies on generalities. The power of this poem is in how the specific can translate in our own minds into universality. I think it's a paradox that often the general is not felt as universal. Rick