Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THAT KIND OF POEM', by KAREN SWENSON



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THAT KIND OF POEM', by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He called our son to ask if he
Last Line: "of poem"" to keep her alive."
Subject(s): Death; Family Life; Women; Dead, The; Relatives


He called our son to ask if he
would ask me if I wanted them,
her letters, for an elegy
because I wrote "that kind of poem."

She ate pills on her thirtieth birthday,
one capsule per lit candle as she
snuffed each year out on upper Broadway
in a dark, soot-drab SRO,
the curtains stale with cigarette smoke.
At twenty she'd cruised on a bonbon
of LSD, a tour baroque
with delusions from which, on occasion,
she'd come back to us. From the beach
in Santa Monica where she'd
slept rolled up in a blanket, she'd reach
us collect, voice rational, upbeat,
to ask us for a loan to fly
to New York. Her rock musical
was opening on Broadway. She'd die
if she missed that night and initial
bids from the movie studios
were coming in. She'd pay us back.
My voice in New York's winter froze
around its shallow edges. I lacked
the courage to confront her while
in my mind somewhere I slammed a door
against the moiling, flooding Nile
of feeling, full weight against that bore,
that vortex swallow that would suck me
down to be whose hysterical prey?

At the Electric Lady she
once, sure that she was Lady Day,
signed up for a recording space
in my, by then, ex-husband's name.
She flew between coasts and ukases
of analysts who portioned blame
among her father, mother, step
mother. Her half sisters networked
psychiatrists, while we, inept
around her, hid the fears that lurked.
I shied from any woman sagged
in layers of old sweaters over
her tattered hoard of shopping bags.
And did we go the distance for her?
When she destroyed her ID and
replaced it with a friend's, already
dead months before by her own hand,
she didn't understand the worry,
the fear, were all the love we had.
It took the FBI a year
to track her down to the clay-clad
rows where in Potter's Field our fear
was buried by the numbered men
who dig graves for the unknown numbered
dead on this island, a small skin
of earth against which the tides mutter.

The parents dead, years are a rind
around half sisters. What survives?
Words not thrown out in exchange for "that kind
of poem" to keep her alive.





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