Diane De Pisa

of Albany, California

Winner of the lou_ham_mem_awa_20120706_125307 in 2010

Bird Tracks: A Pantoum

 

As my mother ended her ninetieth year,

on my bonsai appeared a bold blue jay
who regarded me with no trace of fear.
I knew him, he'd been her protégé.

On my bonsai appeared a bold blue jay.
Contrary to kind, he made no squawk.
I knew him, he'd been her protégé.
He came as an augur—not to mock.

Contrary to kind, he made no squawk,
the first of prophets to come by wing.
He came as an augur—not to mock,
an envoy of flocks who do not sing—

the first of prophets to come by wing.
Then ravens alit on the giant pine,
two envoys of flocks who do not sing.
They were too clearly a fatal sign.

Then ravens alit on the giant pine
next door, where Fran my friend declined.
They were too clearly a fatal sign
for her and for one more yet to find.

Next door where Fran my friend declined
they conferred darkly on a limb
for her and for one more yet to find
and fling beyond the world's bright rim.

They conferred darkly on a limb.
It was you they chose to take away
and fling beyond the world's bright rim—
ravens, successors to the jay.

It was you they chose to take away.
They left me with this conundrum:
Ravens, successors to the jay!
What rare bird was yet to come?

They left me with this conundrum.
I asked the rainbow-circled sun to say
what rare bird was yet to come?
A hawk on your cremation day!

I asked the rainbow-circled sun to say
the gist in the gyre of this braying raptor,
a hawk on your cremation day.
I welcomed him as your messenger.

The gist in the gyre of this braying raptor
remains a mystery not mine to pierce;
I welcomed him as your messenger.
Why he came when called, shrill and fierce

remains a mystery not mine to pierce.
Perhaps your totem Phoenix knows
why he came when called, shrill and fierce,
a bolt from where the hot sun glows.

Perhaps your totem Phoenix knows
you chose a card with its brazen guise,
a bolt from where the hot sun glows,
left words for your funeral to my surprise.

You chose a card with its brazen guise
to write a "reminder" to your self,
left words for your funeral to my surprise:
the credo  that "flames can't destroy the Self."

To write a "reminder" to your self:
What prompted, years before your loss,
the credo  that "flames can't destroy the Self"
but rather just "burn off our dross"?

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Ray DiPalma on Diane De Pisa

I chose this poem first of all because of its adept articulation of a complex lyric form—the pantoum. Its repetitions and rhymes pursue and scheme an oneiric destiny that is prophetically augured and simultaneously fulfilled in the relentless assertions of an ever-changing avian presence. All that unfolds in the poem—from death to resurrection reflected from the bold appearance of the blue jay to the arrival of traditional birds of foreboding and ill-omen such as the raven and raptor ending in the resolution traditionally accorded the phoenix—does so via the imaginative strategies the poet deftly weaves and develops that reveal an understanding of the constraints of the pantoum's expressive structure. Form here is more than a container of the work's ideation. The poem's shifting disclosures and insistent successions of rhymes and repetitive phrases effectively project a fatality flung "beyond the world's bright rim." The succinctly descriptive actions that the speaker of the poem presents are those of a compelled and engaged witness to what the birds' arrivals signify. This then is rendered into song tempered by the deliberative momentum of the pantoum's persistent constraints and the poet's push against and through them providing a reckoned music that would both determine and  understand—compelled once again within the pantoum's refinings. What Keats admired most about the nightingale was that it could both fly and sing simultaneously while on the wing. Mary Ann Caws in her Preface to the anthology  Surrealist Painters and Poets observes that "Surrealism was a lyric behavior . . . and continuous creation." This, therefore, was what in Breton's words "enables a mental circulation between states of being . . . to guarantee the constant exchange in thought that must exist between the exterior and interior worlds." The poem's "messengers" come and go shaping the "totemic gists" traced in the writing—effecting this "exchange".


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