Third Fig (A Letter to Edna), A.S. Coomer

Mark Terry, “T’was Heard Inside the Door,” 8 x 11 x 2, stoneware



Third Fig (A Letter to Edna)


You may have culled
a few figs from thistles,
sailing exclamations
like shuttered breaths
or wailing whistles
on a winter’s frigid breeze,
scattering men like fallen,
brittle leaves, to lie,
quiet & forlorn come
waiting weightless spring,
but another of the canonized,
this one from antiquity,
stands firm before the gates,
impending & dark,
as silent as the sleeping snow lark,
keeping smirkers like us peering in
from the outskirts.

A.S. Coomer


Review by Devon Balwit

Many things grabbed me about Coomer’s poem:

First, that it addresses Edna St. Vincent Millay, who wrote one of my favorite sonnets, [What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why]. Now entering my mid-fifties, her plangent poem of loss resonates. Too, the poems Figs from Thistles and First Figs were among the first that my daughter chose to memorize. They capture well the urgency of youth—its appalled reaction to the status quo and its fear that the good will prove elusive.

Second, what beautiful attention Coomer pays to sound throughout: the l in cull & thistle, the short I in fig & thistle, the dipthong in sail and exclamAtion, the double t in scatter and brittle. I could go on and on. It is a poem to be read aloud for the pleasure of it.

Third, Coomer conveys the poetic experience shared with St. Vincent-Millay of standing outside the desired space, of not yet having ascended to the Empyrion. Yes, St. Vincent-Millay was canonized, but the narrator of the poem hints that she’s still not the gold-standard of the art. Another—Shakespeare with his “Song: “Hark, hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings”—blocks the way. All of us poets feel not good enough. We’re always addressing, arguing with, and trying to shoulder aside our influences. (If they’re still alive, perhaps even craving their acknowledgment and praise!)

One question I would ask the author if I could concerns the word “smirk.” Obviously, it rhymes with “outskirts,” but it suggests derision. Is s/he not a fan of Millay, then? Or is it merely the smirk of the lowly mortal when confronting the great mysteries—that embarrassed smile/titter we get when overwhelmed?


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