It was Ursula the wise old woman of Earthsea Hain 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 I 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 II 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 silence 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.