Istvan

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[I woke up in the Mercy Hospital bushes]

[Surrounded by dots, swallowing a chandelier of thinking]

[Vowels filled the aquifer without spelling a word]

[Which way the river?]

[The history book you had told us how to get to my address]
[It was this year’s history]

[& You? You were Istvan]
[Higher than the beat of your cap]
[Your glowing head around your head glowed]
[Blue blue jay jay][Heating the outdoors]

[We traveled home]

[By a chunk of the moon on this wax tip went we]

[Kabashing the discourse of the system of the saplings and]

My thoughts that often mount the sky

Go search the world beneath

Where nature all in ruin lies

And holds      and holds her sovereign death

[Istvan, how much can the brain be
A bird on the wall or a bird in the wall?]
[Wherein beating high, its high­hat lights up,
Knowing its coordinates by the color assigned it]

 

 

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Click here to read Lauren Haldeman on the origin of the poem.

Photo: “Waxing over a Sea of Clouds” by Carl Milner; licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lauren Haldeman:

During the summer after graduating from the workshop, I went up to Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vermont for an internship. I have been up to B&P for several summers before, and felt fully engulfed in the magical, raw nature of the place. Every morning we would wake up and sing Sacred Harp songs in this field behind the houses – these strange polyphonic songs that seemed like haunted chants. It was beautiful. And everything about that place was raw: it was a working farm with pigs and cows and chickens (the chickens were slaughtered at the end of each summer), but also giants puppets in barns and pine barrens, puppet parades and makeshift musical instruments. It was a place of basic life and death. I mean, I could go on and on about it – there is no one way to describe Bread and Puppet.

 

When I got back to Iowa, it was a really strange time in my life – I was working full time, still writing poetry and thinking about the fact of death a lot. You know, it just became this obsession: that someday all of us will have to do it, all of us will have to die. I couldn’t stop thinking about it! As you could imagine, I went a little nuts. So I wrote this poem from a place of that strangeness. The quote near the end (“My thoughts that often mount the sky / Go search the world beneath / Where nature all in ruins lies / And holds and holds her sovereign death”) is based on a line from the song Sacred Heart 300: ‘Calvary’ that we sang often at B&P. I am going to include a link here so that readers can hear it, because they just have to hear it. Listen to the song.

 

The song still gives me chills. Imagine singing this in a giant barn, surrounded by puppets and paintings, in the middle of the mountains of Vermont. Yeah.

 

One last thing: the name ‘István’ in the poem is a nod to Géher István László, a Hungarian poet who was a resident at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program during that year. I spent a lot of time with him and a few of the other writers during that residency and I had written several poems for each of them, but then I lost them! This was the only one I found. So this one’s for you, István.