Joanne Lowery, Give, Present Tense

Joanne Lowery

This is the mashed potatoes comfort food of books:
my red Latin I from high school
so familiar I know each picture
and remember the row by the windows
where I sat to cipher the mysteries of Rome.
Crisis time I need more than English
to bring serenity, priestess of white temples,
and there is no one to ask, no imperative.
Of course give would be an irregular verb,
of course I give is only two Roman letters.
Future is regular as a dreamer.
But to give to myself now—to meet
my own lack—to command the swirling
emotions to settle, I need only to state
what sitting on my porch in imitation
of caladium or cardinal I can do:
do, I give, and as if running to catch
the ball I’ve just thrown among green leaves
and clear birdsong, I offer up hands:
here it comes back to me from the ruins.

Author’s Comment: It’s human nature—and the nature of poetry—to dwell on the past, frequently lamenting loss. But when I came across my trusty old Latin book, I was surprised at how its familiarity and the crisp clean language of the Romans cheered me. I felt as if I were in the presence of an old friend. And since I am always charmed by puns, I enjoyed how the Latin do for “give” relates to our English “do.” Giving is one of the best things we can do, both for ourselves and for others.

Bio: Joanne Lowery’s poems have appeared in many literary magazines, including Birmingham Poetry Review, Rattle, Slant, Cottonwood, and Poetry East. Her most recent collection is the chapbook Scything published by FutureCycle Press. She lives in Michigan.

2 thoughts on “Joanne Lowery, Give, Present Tense

  1. Who could read this and not consider what their own “comfort food of books” would be. For me it might be “My Side of the Mountain” or “The Book of Nightmares” or “Contemporary American Poetry” or anything from Frost or Cummings. More than that, though, I love the idea that giving is the doing that sustains.

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