Poetry Reading, Weldon Kees, Small Prayer

13 Dec

Weldon Kees’s Small Prayer, not to a god but to time.  However, isn’t time the ruler of us all, the very container in which everything else exists?  Then again, time is often described as a human invention, a measurement of the turning of the planets that somehow took over a few thousand years ago.

“Change, move, dead clock that this fresh day/may break with dazzling light to these sick eyes.”  It is night. The speaker is speaking to a “dead clock,” whether that means that the clock is literally dead, or just not moving fast enough is unclear.  Ever have one of those sick delirium nights where time does not have order anymore?  Where the night just drags on and on like a fugue as the fevers climb and sink like waves?  Where an hour might be carried in a minute and the other way around?  I can see that wishing for the day in those moments, because the day brings sanity and order, while the night moves according to its own mysterious rules.

“Burn, glare, old sun, so long unseen” The clock is dead and the sun is old.  The imagery is of being in darkness and wishing for the light.  The fire-and-brimstone part of my past would say that this man longs for salvation.  From what?  Sickness.    In this poem sickness manifests in stuckness, things staying still and things being dark.

“That time might find its sound again–”  The literal meaning here is that the clock will chime, but time finding sound is also indicative of music, of joy, with the light comes order, and with order joy.

“–and cleanse/whatever it is a wound remembers/after the healing ends.”  This is the oddest turn of the poem.  How does a wound remember?  There’s a few ways, the twinge of a once-broken bone, the scars that remain–this speaker does not want them to stick around, he wants them to go away too, and he wants the light to remove it.

Clearly we aren’t speaking of your average physical ailment, because all the light in the world won’t take a scar away, however “light” might chase away depression.  Yet still this speaker’s prayer points towards an unlikelihood, the light always comes back, but so does the darkness eventually.  His prayer for this pain to end, might be in vain.  But then again, aren’t the greatest prayers for things we cannot provide for ourselves?

And what brought on this darkness?  This stopped time?  I have no proof of the matter but it reminds me of mourning.  Might eyes get sick from weeping?  Might we see the sun as old under those circumstances?  Grief feels like a painful delirium to me, where the deep emotions keep things fixed for an uncomfortably long time, it feels like the world will never change, and the sun will never come out again.  Grief works through the body as certainly as any sickness, something painful working its way through the system.  The clocks stop, or they don’t matter, and the rest of the world goes away, if the grief is keen enough.

Though I see hope in this little prayer, a turning point maybe, because at the heart of grief one cannot even imagine happiness or the sun coming out again ever, the ability to imagine that possibility and want it again means a corner of sorts have turned, the fever might have broken, the loss might be coming into a little bit of focus, however painful it might be.

I hold this poem up for anyone stymied by loss right now, that as the darkness is around you, may you hope for the light, however far away it may seem.

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