First Sky of August

This poem is for my wife, because I do not write her nearly enough poetry, and because she deserves poetry if anyone does.

First Sky of August

I have always thought you loveliest
When I catch you unaware, and you stand,
Half-turned and still, your eyes on something else,
Something quite apart from me, some bright thing,
Like the book on the thrift store shelf that day
When you, for me, were first transfigured;
Like the apples, red and gold in the light
Of a morning dimmed market, halo lit;
And like the sun, redder and golder still,
And sinking through our first sky of August.

  1. Here is a quote I found just recently, and I think it applies to this and a previous post you made about public and private written forms, just replace ‘song’ with straight up writing:

    “… a young man got his eye on a girl and he would make a reed flute, and compose a melody. And when she came down to get a pail of water, at the brook, he would hide in the weeds and play her his tune. If she liked it, she followed and saw where things led. But it was her special tune. A tune wasn’t thought of as being free for everybody. It belonged to one person. You might sing somebody’s song after they’re dead to recall them, but each person had a private song. And of course today, many small groups feel their song belongs to them and they’re not happy when it becomes something that belong to everybody.”

    ~ Daniel J. Levine, Via Pete Seeger.

  2. Curtis,

    In order to accept this metaphor, I would suggest that each person’s song or poem is never really knowable, at least in in any definitive way, and that, even if it were to be known, for a moment, it would always be changing in any case. This, I think, would more accurately describe the poet’s vocation, which is to try and sing the songs that are always, essentially, beyond the reach of song.

  3. Tim said:

    jeremy/ukehill…. I don’t know. There is a huge problem of singularity, and personally I don’t believe you can delineate the individual existence who/which is in flux. But using this small poem as an example, I think it finds an imagination. And when it does find that imagination in another person it has reached across that huge problem of singularity. If it does that, then it is knowable. Maybe not the way it was meant to be known.

  4. Tim,

    I would suggest that there are two very different ways of knowing.

    There is the knowing that tries to define the other within the limits of my own understanding. This knowing is always a violence to the other. It always reduces the other to myself and therefore annihilates the other as such. It is the knowing of science and philosophy and theology.

    Then there is the knowing that is perhaps related to your idea of imagination, a knowing that seeks neither to comprehend nor define the other but only to participate in it. Only in this sense would I say that any of us might risk saying that we know another.

    The function of poetry, and of art generally, therefore, at least in my mind, is to say what can never be properly said, to sing what can never be properly sung, to show what can never be properly shown. It is to make known what must forever remain essentially unknown.

    I am unwilling to resolve this paradox.

  5. Tim said:


    Oh, and I had hoped that [my] comment had not gone through…. but alas it did. OK, so I’ve read your reply twice, and I like it.

    Next, I must admit I have no firm idea of imagination. I simply used a convenient term.

    It appears you might be distinguishing between seeking to define or seeking comprehension when you limit “only to participate.” I think seeking comprehension within participation is automatic. Finally, everything I’ve written here hinges on an understanding that your use of the term “participation” refers to existence in the same sense that I know as of right now I exist. I fully accept the risk of participation of existence. It often seems brutal.

  6. Tim,

    Yes, I agree that there is no pure participation, no pure experience, that we always impose our narratives and our languages and our definitions on these things, that we always reduce them to ourselves, that we always destroy their otherness. Art does this no less than science, poetry no less than philosophy. The distinction for me is between the act that seeks to comprehend and to define and to limit and the act that seeks to participate and to experience, even as it recognizes that it must always fall into mere comprehension, mere definition. In this sense, there is much scientific or philosophical work that is in fact a kind of art, and there is much music and poetry that never becomes more than a science.

    Your closing remark, which raises the question of being, is impossible for me to answer in the brevity of this space. I hope it will suffice for me to say, as a gesture to where my answer might begin, that the otherness of the other is something that ontologically precedes being and that my experience of it is the unavoidable reduction of this otherness to myself. I do not experience the other, as such. I experience the other always already as reduced to my own being. The function of art, in these terms, is to turn us toward the otherness that always remains beyond the limits of our own being.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s