April 7, 2021

Alison Townsend

PANTOUM FROM THE WINDOW OF THE ROOM WHERE I WRITE

At sunset the russet oak turns into a lamp.
Each polished leaf glows amber, lit by sun.
As a child, I raked leaves with my mother each fall.
We burned small pyres, their flames the color of loss.

Each polished leaf glows amber, lit by sun.
I could not know my mother would die young.
We burned small pyres, their flames the color of loss.
I stand here watching, older now than she ever was.

I could not know my mother would die young.
The tree is a galleon, its sails coppered by light.
I stand here watching, older now than she ever was.
I raked leaves into rooms and houses as a girl.

The tree is a galleon, its sails coppered by light.
I’ll always be a daughter, part of her body’s bright map.
I raked leaves into rooms and houses as a girl.
Death is a lit tree, its amber walls falling in pieces.

I’ll always be a daughter, part of her body’s bright map.
As a child, I raked leaves with my mother each fall.
Death is a lit tree, its amber walls falling in pieces.
At sunset the russet oak turns into a lamp.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

__________

Alison Townsend: “I wrote this poem in a fabulous online class called ‘The Language of Color’ with California poet and essayist Elizabeth Brennan. During the course, we worked our way through the entire color spectrum. The poem emerged when we were contemplating orange. I live in the country, on four acres of prairie and oak savanna. The huge tree outside my study window, a constant companion, was my starting point. When my mother (who died when I was a child) entered the poem and each line presented itself as an end-stopped sentence, I saw a possibility for using form. I turned to the pantoum, which I love for its slow mystery, back-and-forth movement, and non-linear narrative. It’s a ruminative form and a melancholy one—exactly what I needed to evoke the on-going presence of the past in the present, and the way even great loss can be illuminated by beauty. The tree, the autumn season, my mother’s spirit, the color orange, and the form all combined magically to make the poem possible. Poetry is a calling for me; moments like these are the reason I write.”

 

2020 Rattle Poetry Prize winner Alison Townsend was the guest on Rattlecast #79! Click here to watch …

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