If God Is In The Details: Metaphor, The Great Pandemic, and Hummingbirds

A poem, and then a few thoughts on metaphor...

Headstones carry last century’s news etched into granite gone
green, lichen as cold as the shade side of an empty
house.  I wait while he kneels at his son’s grave,
wander the brittle grass paths, find mothers
buried with newborns
The dates are the same.  No span of life stretches
between them.  I find brothers
and sisters, a wife,
then a child,
a husband – the Great Pandemic.

Grief is a familiar load.  It bends us at the shoulders, buckles his knees
as I wander, waiting for the right time to go to him, the sorrow
of a town etched in each stone. Grave after
winter grave, I see where death
turned the calendar
December 1918
January 1919
Seven months later we return to the family plot. Too soon. 
The soil hasn’t settled.  They have piled a mound of cold earth on
his son’s grave, carving space for the wooden box that holds the
grandmother’s ashes.  A boy holding the earth. It should not be
so – life turned upside
            like this
His mother is the first to toss rose petals for these are her mother’s ashes
floating, the petals carried by a cold wind to both graves.  I wait, watch
his father bend and reach into the basket.  His large brown hand curls
softly around the red petals and I wonder, How does one let go
 of such
 a thing?

As a writer, I want to reach out and touch this experience without staring it harshly in the eye, without crassly naming it, as if such poignancy could be reduced to a few single words.  If God is in the details, then I want to write the details in such a way that from these details symbolism rises.
Hummingbird by Sarah Rogers
In the 2012 January/ February issue of Poets & Writers, Dan Albergotti writes about metaphor, exploring “The Truth of Imagination” as seen through the lens of Melanie Carter’s poem, “Water to Sky” (first published in Shenandoah). The poem, on the surface, is about a hummingbird.  But in just 14 lines, she captures a truth about the human experience.  The fine throat “soaked through with red” shape-shifts into the “hook God dangles into this uncertain sea.”  The wings “pluck the invisible line” and suddenly we realize that the “invisible line” that links water to sky is the very same line from which we dangle.  The hummingbird becomes both bird and fish, as do we.

And God?  Ah, the puppeteer, of course.  The question arises from the metaphor, and is answered by the metaphor, yet in a way that none of us can articulate, nor hold in the palm of our hand, nor see with our naked eye.  But we know it to be true—as weightless as the hummingbird, yet as substantial as the fistful of soil I might have held had I dared to bend at the grave and pick it up, tossing it, like the rose petals, into the cold winter wind.

BOTTOM NOTES: Rattles: Poetry for the 21st Century awards a $500 editors prize for the Annual Neil Postman Award for Metaphor.   MANY THANKS to artist Sarah Rogers for permission to feature "Gary's Hummingbird."  To view Sarah's available prints and originals, please go to Sarah Rogers Art.  THANKS also to Robert Olen Butler, for reminding us in his book From Where You Dream, that the human condition resides in the details.  Origin of "God is in the details."


Julie said…
Oh Page... such an achingly beautiful poem. And there is God... between the words, among the ephemeral wisps of connection that bring us all together as one. Thank you, thank you.
Page Lambert said…
Julie, thank you for your lovely words ... there is God, in the details, between the words, between friends. Thank you.
Cynthia Becker said…

I, too, was captivated by this poem which I just read last week in Poets & Writers. Your essay reminds me that I want to read it again, and again.
Hi Cynthia. The article in P&W was great, I thought. I couldn't link directly to it (subscription only), but hopefully others will seek it out. Thank you for your comment.
Penny Sidoli said…
Hi Page. Just wanted to say how much I love your blog. It draws people very well into the beautiful natural world, and into your writing world naturally, gently, completely. For me, as a blog it is admirable ! You inspire me!

Penny Sidoli
Hi Penny. Thank you for this generous comment! I went to your site and browsed around a bit. Your children's book, THE LAST BEAR, looks great, and how fabulous to have Carol Hagen's artwork on the cover. Congratulations!
Kathy Kaiser said…
What a beautiful and tender view of the hummingbird. Thanks for bringing that to our attention.
Sue Cauhape said…
Hi Page,

Love this entry; the experience at the grave and the metaphors of the hummingbird. I've always been mystified by metaphor and how it enriches our writings. It requires us to dig deeper into the soil of words, rubbing the loam through our fingers.

Whether we fully understand the inner meanings, there's a visceral feeling within that sates us like a banquet of rich foods.

I savor that feeling at the end of a book or poem, and your entry today fed me well. I was very impressed with your writing style as well as the substance of the article.

Sue Cauhape
Newsletter Editor
Women Writing the West

author of Paradise Ridge:
reviewed in The Nevada Review: http://www.thenevadareview.com/new-review-paradise-ridge#more-754

When the Horses Come and Go http://www.ringaroundbasin.com/bookstore. A review by Jon Chandler in Roundup magazine is included in the above link.
Hi Sue. Thank you for taking time to read the post and send this note. Metaphor is kind of mystifying – even though there are plenty of definitions and examples of it, metaphor still seems to exist in the realm of the mysterious. Mystifying – a good word for metaphor. Thank you. I’m glad the entry offered some sustenance, and appreciate your generous comment.

Thanks, Kathy. Melanie Carter's poem, and Dan's article in P&W about her poem, are both admirable pieces of writing. Thanks.
Barbe said…
One of the most profound things I've ever heard is the phrase, "Everything is a metaphor for everything else." What an exquisite poem, Page. Thank you.
Barbe said…
Your poem is exquisite, Page. It reminds me that "everything is a metaphor for everything else."
Barbe, thank you. Yes, I think you're right - everytime we add even one layer of meaning to something, there is probably a metaphor at work.
Julie Weston said…
Page, Your poem is stunning and beautiful and sad. You are as adept at using metaphor as is the author of the hummingbird poem, which I read in P&W.

Page Lambert said…
Julie, what a kind, kind thing to say. Thank you. I’m glad you read Dan’s complete article in P&W. I thought it was fabulous.

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