Work in Progress

Sometimes Time is the Best Editor

After posting Galway Kinnell’s poem “The Olive-Wood Fire,” I went back into my files. I remember that I had written a poem in third person about a mother and her baby. At the time, I didn’t often try third person perspectives, but this particular poem really seemed to fit third as opposed to first person. I don’t think that I would have been able to write it in first because the subject matter would have been to hard.

By moving into third person, it allowed me to distance myself somewhat from the situation and try to think of it in this mother’s terms, not in my terms. I have revised this poem at least ten times. One of the elements that I was trying to achieve was the correct rhythm, which I still don’t think that I have achieved. The other key thing that I worked on were the line breaks. For example, at one time the first two lines were one line:

Her grandfather had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees 

I changed it back and forth because I just wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until looking at the poem today that I finally realized that if I broke the line at grandfather, then the short a sound in grandfather would play off crafted and hardwood more emphatically. I also realized in rereading the poem that I needed to break the first long stanza into two shorter stanzas: one for the beginning of the ritual and one for the end of the ritual. I pared some superfluous words, which helped to tighten the rhythm.

I’m including the final version (first), and the version which was my last edit preceding this version. I believe more than anything, time and distance have helped me to shape this poem into something tighter and closer to my original intent, and sometimes that is the best way to deal with something that you’ve written that never seems to be a final version.

 I’ll let you decide.

The Poem: Most Recent Version and Version from Two Years Ago

Cradle Song

 

Her grandfather 

had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees

in the dense woods behind the house.

Her mother had lain securely in its curves,

and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.

Years later, spring brought her own girl child.

Each night, she would lay the baby in the cradle,

cover her with a soft blanket,

and soothe her with hushed lullabies

whispered in the summer twilight.

 

With her hand on the knotted wood

worn smooth by time and love,

the woman would rock the bed gently,

and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.

The tranquility of this evening ritual

became the woman’s talisman for her babe

against the dark and unknown.

Until the day arrived

when the girl-child became ill,

and was taken away

to be succored by strangers.

never to return to the enfolding arms

of the woman or the idle cradle.

 

After that,

the woman would stand by the cradle in the evening,

and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.

Alone in the terrible stillness,

she would gather the blanket in her arms,

and inhale deeply–searching for the essence

that might still cling to the barren cloth.

Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,

her hands seeking warmth

from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.

Once, she found a single, dark hair,

She wrapped it in white tissue and placed it in a box,

along with a small, cloth doll

and a faded red bow she had tied in her daughter’s hair

one fall morning.

 

Her husband never understood

her need to find solace from things no longer used.

He wanted to remove the cradle,

the source of her pain.

But she asked him to leave it

until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,

until she could imprint all that the child had been,

before time began to fade the image,

and she would be left alone,

with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle

and echoes of soft night songs of love.

 

Lolita Liwag

January 11, 2009

 

                                                                                                                              

 

Earlier Version:

 

Cradle Song

 

Her grandfather had crafted the bed

from the hardwood trees

that grew in the woods behind the house.

Her mother had lain securely in its curves,

and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.

Then one spring brought her own girl child.

Each night, carefully,

she would lay the baby in the cradle,

cover her with a blanket knit from soft white yarn,

and soothe her with lullabies

whispered in the summer twilight.

With her hand on the knotted wood worn smooth

by other hands from times past,

she would rock the bed gently,

and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.

She did this every night

until the time that the baby became ill

and then did not come home again to sleep.

 

After that, she would stand by the cradle in the evening,

and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.

Alone in the terrible stillness,

she would gather the blanket in her arms,

and inhale deeply–searching for the essence

that might still cling to the barren cloth.

Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,

her hands seeking warmth

from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.

Once, she found a single, dark hair,

which she wrapped in white tissue and placed in a box,

along with a small, cloth doll

and a red bow that she had tied in her daughter’s hair

one fall morning.

 

Her husband never understood

her need to find solace from things no longer used.

He wanted to remove the cradle,

the source of her pain.

But she asked him to leave it

until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,

until she could imprint all that the child had been,

before time began to fade the image,

and she would be left alone,

with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle

and echoes of soft night songs of love.

 

February 25, 2007

 

More later. Peace.

 

 

5 thoughts on “Work in Progress

    1. Thanks. It really feels good when something that you have gone back and forth with over time just seems to click and fall into place. Have to learn to appreciate those moments more in my life.

  1. Absolutely beautiful. I agree that you found your rhythm in the latest version. The story was there before but the subtle changes in the rhythm make the story that much more poignant.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thank you. I think that I am on a burgeoning creative streak, which I really hope is the case. When I pulled “Cradle Song” out, I was just going to post it as is and talk about what was wrong with it, but then, I started having all of these ideas that I had never seen in the lines before, ways to tighten it and make it stronger. And suddenly, a poem that I have been struggling with for years, fell into place. At least, that’s how it felt to me.

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