We traveled south, recently, toward a funeral in New Orleans. We could see the trees and bushes along the highway changing: still stark, bare and gray in Missouri; the beginnings of greenery in Arkansas; the green growing gradually upward in Mississippi; and finally the complete greenery that is southern Louisiana most of the year.
Traveling toward a funeral, and family, and childhood and growing up, and finally leaving, it was a journey combining all of the elements of the subtitle of L.L.Barkat’s new collection of poems – Love, Etc.: Poems of Love, Laughter, Longing and Loss.
I even found a poem that almost exactly described our journey south:
Winter Road Trip
The road is long as I travel south
and the sun is low in the white sky.
Last night I woke to a great silence,
in a house that is anything but silent
by day. Old pines keep watch
over that dwelling, and the moon
keeps watch, and I wish
for this kind of watching,
but my bedroom in the town where I live
looks out over streetlights and the sounds
of cars and sirens. In my room,
the roads seem short, and I wonder
if tonight I will dream of the long road
home, and how the sun bathed the trees
in gold, and how the sumacs leaned with flowers
the color of some wine whose name
I can’t remember, near the trees whose names
I’ve never known, now strung with long red necklaces.
I read these beautiful poems, and I’m struck with how closely connected love, laughter, longing and loss truly are. Even love and loss, and not in an obvious way like love lost, but in a less obvious but perhaps more accurate way – one experiences love and all of what has come before becomes a kind of loss, never to be found or rediscovered in precisely the same way, because love changes everything.
Barkat takes us on a journey with these poems, and not only a winter road trip south. She takes us to the edge of illness, to the borders of erotic love, to the defined realities of sight, sound and smell and the loves that stands before the stove in the kitchen, cooking soup. The poems are not only about relationships between people, and lovers, but more than that, and there is something more than that, the love that longs, that laughs, the love that sacrifices, and even the love that becomes represented by loss.
And beyond the journey, Love Etc. contains poems for the standing still, those moments that are eternity. This poem, “Ours,” is the poem our mothers repeat to themselves, including the mother whose funeral I’m attending:
We call them to the world
before we even know their names,
before we understand
what it will mean
to lean beside their beds
on breath-thin nights.
They teach us
how to hold their hands,
shut the lights,
pray for dawn.
I have been leaned over on those breath-thin nights, and I’ve been taught by my own children how to hold their hands.
Love Etc. reminds us what eternity is, and what part of it is contained within ourselves.
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