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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Charlie Vermont: Knowledge of Love and Possession

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

South Carolina. Livery stable gang talking politics in the country of Senator "Cotton Ed" Smith: photo by Dorothea Lange, July 1938 (Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress)

the old Senator
took the nurse's hand
as she felt his pulse

"your hands are cold
.you must be in love"

she acknowledged she was

"ah, honey does he have any money?"

old men know a thing or two
sometimes when you least
expect it
he died soon

Bald cypress and tupelo swamp, Ballard wildlife management Area, Jackson Purchase region, western Kentucky: photo by Southernky, 2009


Wooden Boy said...

That last stanza, letting the notice of death be part of the whole poem's telling, is great. He knows to let the easy chance of a full stop go in order to let the words close quietly.

What is happening with the expectation between his knowing and his end?

The title: those two things being the things that are known (as they show up in others at least). What's the experience that speaks here?

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Waters, murky
in between times
of comfort
where did it
come from?
Hot little hands?
Cold nurse logs?
The men sit
and talk
about Charlie Vermont
and all he knows
and all that
they cannot possess
in a given
even when
looking back.

TC said...

Yes, that shocking elision that brings the penultimate and ultimate lines together in a moment of maximum impact -- a small quiet supercollision -- has a power of inevitabilty and yet also of mystery, in the same moment.

Understatement is only effective when there is also the sense of something important that is not being stated. Here the distance between life and death are compressed into a blink, an instant. In this moment we feel the authority of a long life in the world being condensed into a rough micro-nugget of (possibly quite useful, who cah say?) pseudo-wisdom, evaporating into history even as it is expressed.

The waters that must be passed over between life and death are always murky. In Virgil the souls of the dead, waiting on the shores of the underworld river, are timid, apprehensive, unknowing. Everyone dies too soon, too quickly, or too slowly, not soon enough.

It would be good to go out having said what you know, particularly when it has been generally assumed that, there at death's portal, you knew nothing.

These hospital poems of Charlie's have the curt, unsentimental, no-nonsense quality of truthfulness we would all want but seldom get from those licensed as healers.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

A telling poem.

BTW, who was the sage that said we should always observe children at play and listen to what old people have to say?

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I guess the politician
would not be a good lover
after all
working the crowd
even when speaking
to the only healer

or was it compassionate
that he asked after
someone else
and his funds
when the nurse
had obviously
fallen in love
just with him
over and over

TC said...

Observing the children at play in the twilight purple sage... why do we not have the Swiss enlightenment when it comes to dying?

But I guess that Swiss mercy centre is an anonymous looking unobtrusive concrete block building with no windows, so one would not be able to glimpse the children out the window, playing in the sage, as one quaffs the final Dixie Cup of hemlock or whatever it is. Also, in Switzerland there would be no sage. Only sages. Plenty of those. Useless old fools. (Takes one to know one.)

And why has it taken the arrival of an intelligent woman with an understanding of the world to switch on the interpretation lightbulb that illumines this poem for this befogged old blogger by making clear that what shines out from the Senator's unseen ancient eyes can only be be the unextinguished light of true love?

And here we thought he'd been merely "being objective".

But no one yet born or dead has ever been merely being objective.

A point in space is not a place to start an argument, it's merely a point of view.

(Of course Doctor Charlie could demystify all this at least a bit for us by supplying the mundane facts of the case, but to expect that of him would be to solicit the violation of doctor/patient ethics, and it would also risk spoiling the mystery. Dwelling in doubts, uncertainties & c. being so much of the essence of this here antebellum backwoods swamp and livery-stable-porch sort of poetry thang.)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Sage is supposed to clear away any lingering bad stuff and probably meant mostly as an astringent antidote for smells from eating beans, practically. When burned, a little like pot but scrubs the air instead of heavily sweetening it. It is very strong! O.K. obvious information for all the wannabes out there (like me).

larry white said...

How this (these) grow on me!

I was a library man
I read what I could
To buy books and sell
Them to hungry patrons
For a tax-paid living
I grew cantankerous
And fought with the board
Was magnanimous with
Fellow patrons I trusted I made
My share of mistakes, friends!
Bookkeeping not being my strength
I went to any length
To find books readers wanted
As I would for myself and moreso
Marked everybody through the door
And loved them all the more
As we stood talking or sat in
Curious silence.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Swiss enlightenment:

Purple cows

TC said...


That's lovely, and if nothing worse than small therapeutic word-thingies like this one ever grow on you, you shall outlive Methuselah!


I have appreciated the intense fragrance of burning sage, and if no worse fragrance e'er o'er whelms me, I shall live long enough to once again stroll the broad boulevards of old Zurich. Maybe, peut-être.

Talking of which, th'immemorial poetic sage is cluttered with reverent paeans to th'immortal Vache Suisse. Par exemple:

A Purple Cow
By Gelett Burgess

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

Edgar Allen Poe
(Parody by Susan and David Hollander)

One lonely, gloomy, windswept eve
A mournful sound did I perceive.
I cast my eyes beyond the pane
And to my horror down the lane
Came a sight; I froze inside
A spectral cow with purple hide.

Emily Dickinson
(Parody by Susan and David Hollander)

On far off hills
And distant rills,
Sounds a distant moo.
A purple spot
I think I caught,
Yes! I see it, too!

In Bovine majesty she stands,
Her purple tail she swings,
The amethyst cow,
To my heart somehow,
Perfect joy she brings.

And yet the thought of being
Of that race of royal hue,
Though glowing like the violet sweet,
It really would not do.

John Keats
(Parody by Carolyn Wells)

A cow of purple is a joy forever.
Its loveliness increases. I have never
Seen this phenomenon. Yet ever keep
A BRave lookout; lest I should be asleep
When she comes by. For, though I would not be one,
I've oft imagined 'twould be a joy to see one.

William Wordsworth
(Parody by Carolyn Wells)

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dee;
A Cow whom there were few to praise
And very few to see.

A violet by a mossy stone
Greeting the smiling East
Is not so purple, I must own,
As that erratic beast.

She lived unknown, that Cow, and so
I never chanced to see;
But if I had to be one, oh,
The difference to me!

Rudyard Kipling
(Parody by Carolyn Wells)

In the old ten-acre pasture,
Lookin' eastward toward a tree,
There's a Purple Cow a-settin'
And I know she thinks of me.
For the wind is in the gum-tree,
And the hay is in the mow,
And the cow-bells are a-calling
"Come and see a Purple Cow!"

But I am not going now,
Not at present, anyhow,
For I am not fond of purple, and
I can't abide a cow;
No, I shall not go today,
Where the Purple Cattle play.
But I think I'd rather see one
Than to be one, anyhow.

And not only turns out the grape soda and ice cream purple cow is a delicacy nowhere more loved than in Doctor Charlie's own neighbourhood, where the Purple Cow restaurant chain has two outlets in Little Rock, one in Hot Springs... and coming soon, another at an emporium near you... perhaps amid the cooling violet lava flows of Mauna Loa.

larry white said...

I was going to delete my "word-thingy" comment above (save the sentence in praise of Charlie's fine poem) but your kind and wittily definitive comment, Tom, persuades me to leave it. Your poetry class is my therapy!

TC said...

I always feel I ought to have gone a bit longer to school, myself, Larry; but the deficit in education is relatively painless as long as there's a doctor in the house.