Kathleen Winter

Winner of the The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award in 2016

The Porch Roof's Sky Blue Ceiling


Looking to be moved, the gravel pathway vanished into moonlessness

             not before a black hose bisected it
             in the porch-zone light.

Fear of little breaches, slice in the heel
through which seeps the soul's red light.

Fear of trivial experience, waste of the unknown
quantity of summer nights.

Be moved by the porch roof's pale blue painted ceiling
if you are an insect. Dissuaded from staking your claim.

             Mud daubers stinglessly pass through the breached green door-
             screen searching for a ceiling, not a sky.

I trapped myself in wariness, housing
contingencies in an anxious eye.

             Old as I am
             still dumb, why
             won't I say it: the key is hidden always someplace

terribly obvious.

Under the only blooming thing on the front porch,
under an iron horse just right
of the front door

             this wink in the mind's smoky mirror
             this love of the first person       passing. 
line

Carmen Giménez Smith on Kathleen Winter

The challenge was finding a poet that, like Dickinson, could pack a wallop in simple language housed in the complex syntax of philosophical investigation. "The Porch Roof's Sky Blue Ceiling" manages to be that moving synthesis of mind and spirit, the interior and the world. Although set in a contemporary setting, the poem accesses the skeptical wonder from which Dickinson viewed the world. The stanza that sunk me was this one:

            Fear of little breaches, slice in the heel
            through which seeps the soul's red light.
 
There's so much possibility in this bit of poetry, but I'm particularly moved by how the body makes sacrament with the earth. The speaker is fully engaged with the immediacy of the scene while he/she is also meditating on estrangement, housing/contingencies in an anxious eye."

Finally, a major factor was how the poet made his/her way out of the poem. Dickinson was a poet who built a dense machine she could slip out of easily, and although many of the poems I read emulated the discovery in a Dickinson ending, "The Porch Roof's Sky Blue Ceiling," also mirrors her keen ability to inflect every previous moment with a dense emotional tenor. The ending takes me back to the beginning, not just of the poem, but also to my thinking about devotion and loneliness.

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