The marsh is still,
like Pompeii’s sleeping stones,
speaking lustrous words from its reflection,
the mirrored halls of Versailles,
with arms outstretched, the Redeemer,
to cradle the falling sun.
The pink sky has a way of quilting the wetland,
so every piece seems intentional and just—
the fragments of floating scales,
the fabric of vibrating reeds.
The entirety is faultless.
I follow the sun’s rays
as they drown themselves.
Night comes and
picks the stitchings,
reveals the fish that sewed seaweed
through his gills
and the reeds behind which the frogs
gig each other.
The stars can never shine as bright
and with ice-cold envy,
hail down on sunset’s blazing lies.
Review by Dave Mehler
Not enough poets are writing about beauty or magnifying or evoking beautiful things these days—and speaking for myself, I know I don’t. I just reread Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, a book I’d first read forty years ago previously, only to realize I hadn’t understood a word of it the first time through, as a teen. At one point in the first story, “Franny,” Franny is quietly and desperately having a nervous breakdown while eating in a restaurant with her English major and superficial boyfriend, and he’s talking about two poets on the faculty. Franny blurts out, “Those aren’t poets—a real poet’s job is to write about beauty.” This caught my eye, and then just slightly later I met with a couple of friends, and we were sharing poetry with one another, and one of them chose Wordsworth’s “The Daffodils.” He informed us that his students are no longer equipped to read with any understanding a poem like, “An Ode on Intimations of Immortality” due to diction, syntax, and rhetoric. He finds this is the only kind of poetry he is able to read with any feeling any more. Again, form and beauty. This may be a long way around to state this, but I find Vesely’s poem beautiful. Not only the intricate imagery rich in reference, but also the marsh she’s describing, and the “lustrous words from its reflection” in this lyric. I will admit that I can’t say I understand how the sun’s rays tell blazing lies? Could it be because a sun never actually sets but the world turns/revolves away from it? However, after the richness of the poem in which arms outstretched, the redeemer cradles the setting sun (from a nearby church? Or figuratively, from the heavens?), a fish sews seaweed through its gills or frogs gig music to one another, it hardly matters whether I completely put together the title and image of the final line. I’ve gotten and received enough.
Review by Paul Nelson
Just the analogy of envious stars to hail is enough to say Sophia Vesely is a poet whose impeccable language makes us pay attention, “feel,” right away: the marsh is like three cultural familiarities. To compare a marsh stillness to the “sleeping stones” of Pompeii, i.e. the figures of people turned to stone by molten lava is genius, the emotional best she, or any poet, could do, because the marsh light is profundity she can only hint at, however exquisitely. The tension between what can barely be said, with the figures she comes up with, is stunning. The sun seems to kill itself every day. Fish and frogs do their arty, crafty, perhaps poetic “thing” within ineffable “entirety,” the primal marsh. A sunset can lie, despite its frought blazing.
Vesely dares to go after essence and puts us willingly in her excited, creative mind without closing down into surety, the poem flying open. Wonderful.
Review by Jared Pearce
For me the sorrow at the heart of this poem is especially tender. The poem makes, at first, a fine correspondence between a marsh and Pompeii, Versailles, and the Christus, all human-made. Then there’s a reversal for most of the rest of the poem (with the exception of the quilt): the marsh takes on the presumed, intentionally-made quality of perfection. The contrast, then, is set to explain the final line and the title, the lies. What are the lies? To me it seems that the lies are the considerations that the world is meant to be one thing or another: a marsh, a statue, a star. Instead, the speaker seems to know as much, and the hollowness that erupts between the world that one can build-in and understanding that one is building-in meaning, is the lie exposed in the poem’s movement. The exposure, though, comes at the cost of sorrow, of seeing that the only order and, perhaps, beauty, that the world is going to hold has to be foisted onto it by the perceiver.
Then again, I might have fallen into the poem’s trap? Perhaps the lies are just the idea that the sun’s rays, reflected on the water, will not actually drown, and as the stars take over for the sun, envious as they are, their envy comes knowing that tomorrow the sun will perform another fake withering, only to trump them again.
Either way, my favorite part is when the, “frogs / gig each other.” Gig—that’s a blast. [Then, later: a friend of mine explained that when a hunter jabs a frog with a frog fork, it’s called, gigging, which gives me something else to think about.]