Apologies for the absence last week—I was in Massachusetts. The trip was excellent, and will spark at least one post here, I think, if not more. But for now, it’s back to one of the things I love about the blog: sharing a poem I’m increasingly fascinated with (and hopefully introducing a few people to a poet I think the world needs to know better). This time, we return to the poetry of Randall Templin, a gifted friend of mine whose work always makes me think. The poem this evening is titled “Into the Glow”:
On these slow nights of childhood
the world is very short.
All its ends are close by.
There are no vast oceans and continents,
only outside in the night,
and my mother is not home.
The lamp by the windows
eyes turned in on the safety of
the heat vents blowing in
and the games my father plays with us.
But all ends are close;
the world is very
young and wild,
Apocalypse is riding on the second hand
on these stretched nights
when the sky huddles so low
and the branches just outside
the mirrors blow from
one world’s end to the other.
On my pillow
I make worlds without my mother.
I rise to my knees
with each riding of the second hand.
Tangled in the covers,
I look out from
my darkened window.
I call her into the glow
of the driveway light.
I conjure the crackle of home rocks
I haggle with God to fold in
the short ends of the world
until poles and apocalypse and my mother
are all tucked in this
Bring her back from the ends
of this covered world
or bring the ends in on us all.
It’s hard to say what about the poem moves me most. I think it’s that, when I’m falling most deeply under its spell, I am in a hushed place—I am inside the child I was once like being in a museum, able to understand things but not to change them, able to enjoy the memory without reliving it. Whatever autumn night is reaching out to Randall from his past, it’s a night I was awake for also.
I think part of the success of the poem is the way the poem’s world is bounded—the figure of the mother like a bright but absent star keeping all of the pieces in orbit around herself. The poem feels her absence almost as keenly as the boy inside the poem. She is always almost about to come through the door, always a few steps away. Every creak outside the window may be the first sign of her return. For me, this makes the mother into a mythic figure—she feels very symbolic, representing something else, something more immediate. I’ll admit, I don’t know where to take that impulse—I can identify with the more literal meaning of the poem (the boy missing his mother at night) but I don’t know if my non-literal reactions are the same as those going on for Randall.
Because I think he’s gifted with words, one of my complaints to Randall about this poem is how restrained it feels. There are moments where the language is startlingly beautiful—most purely, when the boy “haggles” with God, like some bearded Old Testament saint, for the drawing in of the world on itself. It resonates, for me, with some of the things Eliot says in the Four Quartets: the closeness of the divine, and the ways in which our lives move on that plane. I want a little more of that in the poem, and I also want to feel more of the motion of the evening, from the distractions of the wind and the father’s games to the silent vigil kept, lonely but for the tick of the second hand, as the night grows a bit too long. The moods are just a little too similar in the poem for me, and I think a little more contrast would help heighten the tension towards the poem’s end and give it more oomph (to use the technical poet’s term).
But my criticisms are really small ones: honest ones, but minor. By far the truest thing I can say about the poem is that it quiets my mind enough to hear a boy I have almost lost. And that’s a rare gift, and one to be thankful for. If this poem is a gift to you (or if it is not), I hope you’ll say so in the comments—I wonder if this is a very idiosyncratic reaction from me, or if the poem’s appeal is much broader.