in memoriam C. J.
in the dining hall
she unfolded a tight-folded page
– fingers coaxing open a blossom –
and slid it across
saying I translated this
She caused love to die like a flower falling
At the meadow’s edge
Cut by a ploughshare in passing.
I chewed and hummed a note
that could commend verse or roast beef
keep it she said
but I lost the paper
and she left – a flower felled
with her Catullus, her Latin
her many pages still folded
but I have kept it, buried here
Review by Claire Scott
A stunning poem of loss and death. I love the way the poem looks on the page and how it starts in the middle without a capital letter. “Tight-folded” is a wonderful description of this student, tentative, yet wanting to share. Sounds like the ambivalence of many poets. And of course the Latin translation that is a prelude to her own death. I really like “that could commend verse or roast beef.” Fun to have a little humor in this poem. The ending is poignant, returning to “pages still folded,” all the writing that died with his student. I also like the image of a flower in the poem, starting in the first stanza, then in the translation and again at the end. Well done!
Review by Massimo Fantuzzi
Poetry as a keepsake of the heart, as a special place where to store our most precious memorabilia. When (like in this case) it is genuine in its passion and power of reminiscence, it brings us the unique gift of communicating at the same time in the individual’s and universal dialect, telling and bringing together simultaneously one and one million stories.
Yes, yes, touched by nostalgia: we’re all guilty, we’ve all indulged in it from time to time: so what?
Review by Jared Pearce
The tenderness is heightened here by the grief of the central couplet: “I chewed and hummed a note / that could commend verse or roast beef.” The speaker’s suggestion that his response, fitting something as bland as baked meat, contrasts terribly with the fate of the student and the student’s lost talent and ingenuity. In essence, we lose the student and the speaker: one to death and one to regret.
Review by Mary Giudice
The form of this elegy is as airy as the teacher’s “hummed…note” of response to the student’s translation, as graceful as the “flower falling/ At the meadow’s edge”. But the work this poem does is deep. There’s a confession of what was dismissed or lost in the moment and the beautiful effort to redeem it now by remembering this student and her words–both written and spoken. Indeed her translation is placed at the heart of the poem–art within art.
The title leads me to think about the teacher/student relationship more generally. There’s inherent intimacy and responsibility but also necessary distance. This poem captures that tension beautifully.