Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"For a Philosopher" by Jennie Wrisley

The poet Jennie Wrisley took her own life a few days ago. Jennie was a cherished friend to many in Iowa City for several years and lately in San Marcos, Texas, where she attended the MFA program at Texas State. The few times I met her in person or communicated via email left the indelible impression of a warm and open spirit.

Jennie shared a poem with me many months ago, "For a Philosopher," which I admired very much and will post below. Jennie's first published work is forthcoming from Copper Nickel and her closest friends will send out others, including "For a Philosopher," in the months ahead.

A Facebook memorial page for Jennie is online here.

For a Philosopher


When I first said I love you,
you said, What is love?
and told me what Wittgenstein wrote
about definitions and distinctions.
Your heavy brows convened
in that same conversation
when I groped for the distinction
between sexual and spiritual longing.
The object, of course, you said.
But, I said, swooping my hand to signify
the prairie we were walking through.


What I meant but did not say, my intellectual,
was Let’s pretend we’re flowers.
I’m the purple coneflower
and you’re the aromatic aster,
which is also a shade of violet.
We were grappling in the snags
of language but now we’re simplified:
color is our only voice.
Being blooms, we’re sun worshippers,
and our purple is praise.
We’re nothing but alleluias
in a small country of dainty heathens
singing for the god of blaze.

But our violet petals
also cry, Come to me, bees!—
the intensity of hue an indication
of intensity of yearning,
the desire to hold our dusty lovers
in folds of bright and supple flesh.

Here, the language of prayer
is also the language of seduction,
and the body is a song, or rather,
two throbbings harmonized.


You are afraid of death because
no one has given you reason to think
that mind is more than brain.
And, of course, you do not want
your self to perish with your body.
You say anything, please, anything,
but the loss of self.


Once, I walked through that field
on a new moon night:
empty space fills with dark substance
on a monthly basis, that ghastly blackness
loosed from some abyss
to annihilate all form. My self
was stranded in the thick of it.

I was alone but not quite alone--
there were beasts invisible to me
humming and buzzing and chirping,
their wild thrum sounding
from every niche of the obscurity.

At first I thought their call
was assertion or celebration
of self and existence
against the brutal dark: I am! I am! I am!
I chanted the same and found it
a hollow declaration.
If the preservation of self is all you want,
let me tell you, it’s not enough.

I think the beasts were only
whimpering to one another:
Where are you?
which is exactly
what I was crying out
(for you or for your body,
or for something unworldly,
or for all of those)
and for a moment the cry became bone,
became white, became
everything I was.


Religions do not agree with you
because they all require
a sacrifice of logic.
I once said that you
were too much sharpness,
and in loving you I was crashing
through a field of reasonable thorns.

The beauty of the naked you:
you are stripped of all your reason
momentarily, and I am alone
with the wild of you, the soft
of you, your body a pasture of skin
stretched across the bed.

And when I touch my fingers
to your fallow chest, my curled
and folded chromosomes
only membranes
away from yours, something
blooms, purple and singing,
in that place between.
But I could not prove this
as you require, because when I
lift my hand, it’s gone.
I am telling you, my philosopher,
we were made in the image of fire.