Greeter of Souls
by Deborah Digges
Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers.
Here souls pass, not one deified,
and sometimes this is terrible to know
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world,
siphoned like music through portals.
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless.
A memory of water.
The trees more beautiful not themselves.
Souls who have passed here, tired brightening.
Dumpsters of linen, empty
gurneys along corridors to parking garages.
Who wonders, is it morning?
Who washes these blankets?
Can I not be the greeter of souls?
What’s to be done with the envelopes of hair?
If the inlets are frozen, can I walk across?
When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds,
do I put on the new garments?
On which side of the river should I wait?
from Trapeze (Knopf, 2004)
Lately, I've been thinking that poems are made of desire. This one, for instance. yearns with a dark intensity.
It begins in the natural world. After the first line, it falls into another world, the one you might enter after death. She uses the images of a hospital parking garage, a dark recess below healing, or past it. Delightful is her fusion of sense details: "...where light drinks the world,/ siphoned like music through portals./ How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless." The alliteration of f sounds, "framed faceless" seem to reinforce the earlier f sound, in "siphoned." There are many f sounds: deified, fed, frozen. The word siphoned is an interesting choice. One thinks of muzak played in elevators, drawn off, stolen from its rightful source. The word means taken away from, and 'taken away from' is the topic at hand. Is it the narrator that is taken away from, or is it the others? The language shifts from literal to figurative and back as she wanders across the line between this world and the next.
She writes from the body: "What's to be done with the envelopes of hair?" Vivid detail. It haunts us. "When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds,/ do I put on the new garments?" Perhaps the narrator is speaking of her own death. It seems so. She is on a brink, desiring still. "Can I not be the greeter of souls?" This sentence with the word 'not' seems to cast two shadows. "Can I not be....." is a heartbreaking choice of words for this poem. It speaks to the mystery we face, after being, can I not be? "Can't I be" would have more correct grammatically but would not lend the additional meaning. The 'not' reinforces the angst. She is witness to death--others and her own, and she expresses the poignancy and confusion.
Poems like these reach into the subconscious, use both memoir, myth, and music, and release both deep wonder and awareness.
For more information about this poet, click on this link: Deborah Digges