Arts & Leisure

Poet’s corner: Where moonlight finds you

GARY MARGOLIS

How Difficult is It?
 
I wouldn’t have guessed
you’d love this form. And take it back
into a cell’s darkness.
Even the super moon can’t reach you.
Unless you dream that light
is meant for you. I mean
 
it’s hard for me to think of so many men,
green-suited, shelves for beds, guessing
if the moonlight
will shine that far back
to you
and the super darkness.
 
It’s darker
than I ever thought. I mean
a moon meant for you.
I never guessed
I’d be inside, this far back
inside a yard’s, a wall’s dark light.
 
Locked-in isn’t a kind of light.
Although I can think of darkness
as its own light I can take back
home with me. Even if it doesn’t mean
I’m here to guess
how it really is for you.
 
I can’t know. I’m not you.
And that shining slice of light
through a cell’s window, I want to guess
is the super moon giving up its darkness,
its secret, shining meaning.
So you can find your way back.
 
All the way back
to this poem’s form for you.
So meaningful.
So darkly
full of light.
It won’t leave you guessing.
 
When I’ll come back to be with you.
Your guest. A poem turning darkness
into light.
 
Gary Margolis is Emeritus Executive Director of College Mental Health Services and Associate Professor of English and American Literatures (part-time) at Middlebury College. His third book, “Fire in the Orchard” was nominated for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. His poem, “The Interview” was featured on National Public Radio’s “The Story.” Margolis was awarded the Dietzel Award for Mental Health Practice in Vermont by the Clinical Psychology Department of Saint Michaels’ College. His memoir is “Seeing the Songs: A Poet’s Journey to the Shamans in Ecuador and his recent books include Time Inside and Museum of Islands.”
It was the moonlight in unexpected places, and that universal theme of light and darkness, that first drew me to this poem by Gary Margolis from his recent book “Museum of Islands.” This attraction was quickly complicated, but also expanded, by learning that the setting was a prison. I’ve experienced this juxtaposition of poetry and prison a couple times, once while attending an unforgettable poetry reading by prisoners at a New York State facility. Margolis has likely experienced similar events, having taught many workshops in prisons.
“How Difficult is it?” is a wonderful poem for National Poetry Month in that it reminds us that poetry is for everyone and can be found everywhere, including places you might not expect. I remember driving by Comstock Maximum Security on many trips to and from Vermont in the 1990s when I was studying the fields of poetry and therapy. On one especially gorgeous full moon night the thought of people behind those high prison walls unable to fully experience this beauty was too much to get out of my head. I pulled over in the next town and wrote a poem about the light of the full moon falling in broken pieces through the steel bars of the prison.
In Margolis’s poem, the speaker plays with images of light and darkness, expanding and unfolding them in unexpected ways. He brings himself partly into the setting at one point but never assumes what it is like for the men who live in prison. He moves back and forth between his world and theirs, and between the light of the super moon and the darkness a prison holds until the two are not so separate. He guesses “if the moonlight/will shine that far back/to you/and the super darkness.” The image of the moon grows until it becomes like a poem itself, “giving up its darkness/its secret, shining meaning.” This is exactly what poetry does. Poetry holds shimmering powerful language, but it can be indirect and cloaked in metaphor needing to be coaxed out; as Emily Dickinson said, it both reveals and conceals. But its light is reachable for anyone, especially with a little help from a willing guide or teacher.
Poetry’s power is great, so great that some people are transformed by it, finding it offers them a new way through life they hadn’t known before. This is captured beautifully in the poem when the speaker refers to the moon offering its light “So you can find your way back./All the way back/to this poem’s form for you./So meaningful./So darkly full of light./It won’t leave you guessing.” Whoever can find their way to even a small slice of poetry’s power is not lost, or without light or hope.
Susan Jefts is a poet and educator who lives in the Adirondacks and Ripton, Vt. She has recently completed her first full-length book of poetry, “Breathing Lessons,” and runs workshops using poetry as a way to explore life transitions and directions, and our relationships with nature.

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