I think of Pennsylvania on days like this. The arching sunsets over a bowl horizon, the curvy fields’ lumpy land undulating years back to me crashing Appalachian surf of time rolled up with ancestors neatly filed below marked weathered stone. Only I am missing. I return, having lost some things from my rucksack, an accent heavy and round as potatoes drumming down a wooden chute in a barn, an unrequited love who never wrote back or returned my calls, all my life. The candle I held for him. Places like home, or a house, or a bedroom, or just an old gray-green wooden bed that had been my great grandmother Chee’s. Grandparents, great grandparents, laughter twinkling eyes or stars in the night song of a child voice. Prayers piercing the dark. I was loved. I do keep that close, so close I hope it can breathe. My arms are much stronger now. Longer. And there’s so much less to hold tightly.
3 Questions for Fred
What was your process for creating this work?
I wrote both of these in February a few days apart. I always start with pen and paper. I wanted to write from my immediate experience, the moment, and see where it took me. So I looked up. Both poems started from my fascination with the sky. “Prodigal” in particular started with memories of Pennsylvania skies under which I was raised. And then it flowed from a sense of loss upon my returning to Pennsylvania. Then I tried to remain open to what’s beyond that and it’s about return and love. And wondering how that came to be it took on spiritual tones. So the Prodigal aspect arose. I am always interested in sounds and trying to write an idea slipping into another idea in a way that’s readable. Then I revised the poems over a month, so about thirty revisions, before sending them out.
What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?
“Prodigal” has a more traditional structure of stanzas with punctuated sentences. But pretty quickly it gets a “curvy” theme, things rolled up. I wanted the short sentences at the ends of the stanzas to highlight personal experience. I also wanted the round theme to become audible and in motion, particularly downward motion, since I am talking about graves and loss. So the potatoes roll. Then there’s a list of losses. I have been a sucker for lists ever since first reading Whitman. But I want the lists to not hold the entire concept so the poem has to go further, get personal, and intimate. After the “breathe” and “arms” I was pretty sure the poem had arrived at where it was heading.
“Sundown” was written as a mangle of lines and phrases jotted down mostly about how days move under a changing sky. A spiritual aspect showed up in darkness, overcast, and “fatherless” ideas. It became a search for something more real and the words and phrases became shorter, more abrupt. Reading it aloud, it wanted pauses, so the form became words with spaces. The rhythm suggested a grid, 3 by 4. I didn’t like that at first, but then realized it was working. After stanzas about the day ending, and a day that was, the third stanza, turning on loss and wanting something more real, became a cascading structure. The end is like the beginning except it sounds different, more immediate, in shorter words. The star concept shows up where the day and spiritual/eternity themes meet, literally coming to a point. Our days, our lives, are born of a star after-all.
What is the significance of this work to you?
Personally, these poems opened up ways for me to address feeling removed from my past in place and time. They both allow me to see what else is there beyond apparent loss. So, spiritual aspects appear in these poems and that’s been meaningful for me to explore. As the first, really the first, in my family to move away from Pennsylvania since 1730, I am looking at what it is to leave. And then to have the vantage point of being elsewhere looking back at it all.
Fred Gerhard’s poems have appeared in Entropy Magazine, The Heavy Feather Review, Black Moon Magazine, Pif Magazine, The Wild Musette Journal, and other magazines and anthologies. He lives in a small town in rural New England with his partner and their son. He enjoys contra dancing and long talks with friends in the starlight.