Friday, May 27, 2016

Special Feature: Three Poems by Terri Lynn Cummings

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present three poems by Terri Lynn Cummings, all of which were finalists in the 2016 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.  Cummings is a 2015 Woody Guthrie Poet and curator for the monthly Poetry @ the Paramount readings in Oklahoma City. Her poetry has recently been published in: Red River Review, Illya’s Honey, Melancholy Hyperbole, and Ancient Paths Online.

Ms. Cummings, an Oklahoma City resident, retired from grant writing to pursue fiction writing, but after suffering the loss of her special needs son, turned to poetry. She has studied poetry, fiction, and nonfiction at Creative Writing Institute. She also holds a BS in Anthropology/Sociology from Oklahoma State University and continues to examine social and cultural humanity around the world.

Grey Abbey, N. Ireland
Terri Lynn Cummings

A fine rain bathes the feet of
Mary marbled in devotion.
Roses on her collar beg
for sleep. One stone after another,
the abbey closes her eyes.

*

Flowers nod
on emerald carpets of
grass where vacant doors
once let secrets in.

On solid walls of devotion,
elderly script declares
the rank of the wealthy.

Windows gape
at parades of
passing generations.

A leafy corset crushes
the ribs that guard
the abbey’s heart.

The altar no longer shepherds
lambs under the sanctuary’s ruined
loft. Stars reel in place
of embroidered histories.

 Stubborn wall
rocks the grounds
in a long embrace.

*

A headstone leans
like a weary soul on its homeward trudge.
Here lies the silken gown, the woolen vest,
consecrated disarray in a pagan meadow.

A silver ray strikes old wounds
on stone -
a small name for a small soul
asleep in his dusty cradle.

Below deep layers of faith,
below grief,
coins lost in the ground
await charity.

Poet’s Notes:  Did divine intelligence have beauty or ruin in mind when Grey Abbey was founded? In my eyes, the two leaned into each other, inseparable as truth from the truth. In my ears, they whispered the paradox of man’s spacious and narrow heart. In my mind, divine intelligence peeled the abbey’s walls like an apple, exposing the raw flesh of time, sweet and mortal.

A native of N. Ireland, my mother picnicked on the abbey grounds as a child and young adult. Later, she shared her love of the quiet splendor with her husband and daughters. Whenever I am troubled, I remember this place and its lesson. Goodness is present in an ever-changing landscape.

For those of you who enjoy history, Grey Abbey (pictured) is a Cistercian abbey church. Affreca de Courcy, the wife of Anglo-Norman invader of East Ulster, John de Courcy, founded the church and living quarters in 1193.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the somber mood that the poet creates in her moving description of the ruined abbey, how the glorious works of man have been replaced by the equally glorious natural environment.  The abbey becomes a symbol of what it once was--the good and the bad.  Grey Abbey, N. Ireland” was first published in Red River Review, May 2015.  Additional pictures of Grey Abbey may be found here:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g319809-d266563-Reviews-Grey_Abbey-Portaferry_County_Down_Northern_Ireland.html#photos;geo=319809&detail=266563&ff=70275823&albumViewMode=hero&albumid=101&baseMediaId=70275823&thumbnailMinWidth=50&cnt=30&offset=-1&filter=7.

* * * * *

A New Season
Terri Lynn Cummings
And Merlyn said to Arthur, “When you’re very sad, the only thing to do is go learn something.”
-- T. H. White, The Once and Future King 

April gray stole through the hospital window.
Pressed her lips, with the promise of new life, to his cheek.

Our son lay tucked in morphine’s arms instead of mine.
We’ll see you soon, I whispered, and hoped it was true.

Generous hearts poured mercy for thick tongues.
Flowers flamed as if they could burn
the hymns I dreaded to hear.

My eyes and smile mirrored vacant lots.
Anonymous miles and rooms served as bread
until my reflection disappeared from the mirror.

I wanted to return as something else –
the bud of a mountain,
the light in a word.

Somewhere between his eyes and sunrise,
I leaned in for one last kiss.

Cell-by-cell,
I climbed from the book of our son
to the day’s blank page,
picked up the pen,
and wrote a new season.

Poet’s Notes:  Without an alphabet, how does one describe the loss of a child? For years, I had found it impossible until I picked up the pen. Miles and miles of pages spanned the void that yawned when our son forgot to breathe. I used the pages as gauze, wadded them up, and stuffed them into the abyss. Slowly, my world healed. From mean and ugly, an elegant patterning emerged. Loss begat learning, and like my son, I learned to live transformed.

Editor’s Note:  This is a beautiful elegy.  The opening is strong, with brilliant employment of personification.  The poet follows the personification there with a devastatingly beautiful use of it in the next stanza.  The mood she creates is one of profound sadness and yet of profound hope and acceptance.  I also appreciate her use of assonance, particularly in the fourth stanza. 

* * * * *

Death of a Marriage
Terri Lynn Cummings 

When I threw truth at my husband’s feet,
he wagged his shoes on the ottoman,
shook his head no, got up and walked
out the door for the night shift. I ran
to the closet for my jacket. It wasn’t
there. My shoes were gone, too.

I closed the door to the bedroom
where his lover’s diamond ring
winked under the light on
my nightstand. Passed through
rooms like years. Sampled single
parenthood. Sipped pretense and
considered it like a wine connoisseur.

When I waved the flag, as white
as my heart, his lover claimed our
house like a prize, wore my jacket and
walked in my shoes. Crawled into
the skin I shed and settled in a shell.

Poet’s Notes:  When the knot of our marriage had unraveled, my husband and I dangled at the end of a thread. I kicked and screamed while he hunted for a pair of scissors. After he found them, he cut the thread, and we fell. Thankfully, we survived. The years passed out understanding and forgiveness like bread, yet it did not ease my hunger. I wanted the last word.


Editor’s Note:  I have read (sadly) many poems on this subject, all of them, like this one, bitter, depressing, and filled with a sense of betrayal.  However, this poem uses metaphors that are unique in my experience.  I particularly appreciate the multi-layered one at the end, comparing the adulteress at once to a snake and to an echo of what a true wife should be.

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