Elizabeth Austen’s is a Seattle author. Her interviews and recordings of Seattle-area poetry readings can be heard every Monday on “The Beat” on KUOW, 94.9, public radio. She teaches regularly in the Inquiry Through Writing Program at Richard Hugo House, Seattle. Her poems have appeared in and are forthcoming in journals including the Bellingham Review, the Seattle Review, Switched-on Gutenberg, and the anthologies Poets Against the War and Pontoon.
“The Permanent Fragility of Meaning”
Why persist, scratching across the white field,
row after row? Why repeat the ritual
every morning, emptying my hands,
asking for a new prayer to fold
Nothing changes, no one is saved.
I walk into the day, hands still
empty, and beg
to be of use to someone. I lie down
in the dark and beg to believe
when the voice comes again with its commands,
with its promises—
unfold your hands. Revelation
is not a fruit you pluck from trees. This is the work,
cultivating the smallest shoot, readying your tongue
to shape the sacred names, your mouth already filling—
I lie down in the dark.
I rise up and begin again.
Title is quoted from Jacques Attali’s Noise
The Poem, “The Permanent Fragility of Meaning” appears in Poets Against the War (Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books).
Questions for Reflection: “The Permanent Fragility of Meaning?
1. Can you think of ways that indicate that many of us are people who believe in hope?
2. Can you offer personal examples of how individuals have persisted in order to bring about good?
3. How does Austen indicate that she is a person who is persistent and is a person who believes in hope?
4. How is it that darkness brings light into Austen’s life, as it does into many of our lives?
5. Can you relate a time or a period of your life when you felt as the poet does?
“What if: Birdsong”
Rocketing along the barrel of a gun, a bullet accelerates continuously, building the energy that becomes the basic source of its lethal doingsv --- Rolling Stone, March 6, 2003
Imagine the end of motion:
the whole hurried human world
halted by three clear notes
sung before light. Held
in that pure sound
the city’s perpetual dazzle
of steel spikes shattering
the sky, what if we looked
out, over a dark field?
If what winches our faces
into knots could find no leverage?
What if, emptied
of velocity, every gun
lapsed into its elemental
self, a slack pool of metal?
All our weapons gone
what would we believe?
How would we know
who is bravest, strongest? How
would we know our own hands?
Questions for Reflection: “What if: Birdsong”