Two Sonnets Smothered with Marmalade

It was Ursula
the wise old woman of Earthsea
                          Portland Oregon
and other mystical locales

who taught me
how to shed my pride
in order to 
  hold my hand out in the dark

What else can you do?

Yet she didn’t fully
     explain to me
the procedure for healing
after I had become
a man whose hand was shot off
I nearly bled to death


The wound left scar tissue
on my arm and my mind
The healing process failed
to make me whole like new
Now on cold winter nights
the pain revisits me

I am now over protective
of my remaining useful hand
Layers of fortifications
serve to keep out any new pains
You see I’ve learned my lesson well
during the wars that rocked my soul

It is hard to be burned when one 
avoids hot ovens and fires

Now on cold winter nights
I’m reminded of what I lost

So you see I called
her up via a spell, like a séance,
    and the Mother replied

–Tis (that’s TS pronounced like a word) you have to pick yourself up.
–I know but it’s so hard to do
–Nonsense you have the strength
–What will happen to me after that


I’m blind well not really
but I’ve darkened my specs
to the impaired threshold
You see I’m too gutless
to ram a knife into
my face can’t stand the pain

I’m blind (I’ve explained that before)
so I’ve spent my life wandering 
groping through the mist like darkness
that engulfs my sight and my soul
However every now and then
an object with a radiance
that shines with such intense brightness
that even impaired as I am

Its splendor can I see
As I hold my hand out to it

The elder paused
             shrouding me with her
a silence that calmed
   my troubled mind

–What can you do …
She finally spoke as her words
sliced into my psyche
   as a laser
burning into a tumor
– … but hold your other hand out in the dark
–And if I lose that hand also
–One must have faith in the inherent kindness in people. Who knows maybe you’ll find a kindred spirt.
–Kindred spirit

TS S. Fulk

3 Questions for the author

What was your process for creating this work?

For “Playing Shostakovich …” it was an ekphrastic process. First I researched Shostakovich and his artistic struggles with the communist regime. Then I played the symphony movement by movement over and over. First to get some inspiration and later to write the sonnet for each movement. I tried to tie the emotions and visualizations conjured by the movement with bits of historical research — all seen through the perspective of a bass trombonist. Later I added the free-verse sections “Warming up” and “Applause” including bits from my actual experience of playing the piece several years ago (which I consider one the highlights of my amateur orchestral career). In the end, it became four sonnets sandwiched between two free-verse sections.

“Two Sonnets Smothered with Marmalade” was a more straight forward, linear “write the poem as it comes” process. Both required extensive rewriting until I felt satisfied. 

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

My sonnets are also a hybrid of western sonnets and haiku-like forms. They contain an octave, a sestet (in either order) and a volta couplet. I usually pair the octave with 8-syllable lines and the sestet with six-syllable lines (sometimes I mix that) and the couplet always has one 8-syllable line and one 6-syllable line usually in the same order as the stanzas. This gives me more freedom to have the rhythm I want while still having some constraints on word choice.

For “Playing Shostakovich …” I wanted to have a form that would match the grandness of the symphonic form. So I decided to have one sonnet for each movement. Having the free-verse sections before and after allowed me to introduce and contemplate the symphony as a whole, not just as individual movements. 

When I wrote “Two Sonnets Smothered with Marmalade,” I was just starting to experiment with mixing formal poetry with free verse. 

What is the significance of this work to you?

“Playing Shostakovich …”: I wanted to write a poem to honor a composer whose works mean a great deal to me, and I’ve always been intrigued by his struggles as an artist in a country that repressed artistic freedom. 

“Two Sonnets Smothered in Marmalade”: I wanted to explore my own thoughts and emotions of a line from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” — “We're each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?” So the poem contemplates the fear of reaching out into the dark despite our inherent loneliness.

TS S. Fulk lives with his family in Örebro, Sweden as an English teacher and textbook author. After getting an M.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, he taught English in Prague, CZ before settling down in Sweden. Besides teaching and writing, TS S. Fulk is an active musician playing bass trombone, the Appalachian mountain dulcimer and the Swedish bumblebee dulcimer (hummel). His poetry has been (or will be) published  by numerous presses including The Ekphrastic Review, The Button Eye Review, Red Ogre Review, Perennial Press, Lovecraftiana and Between These Shores.

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