To continue our celebration of National Poetry Month, we’ve chosen a poem by Kathleen Graber from her book The Eternal City: Poems, which was included in the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and a finalist for the National Book Award. Graber grew up in Wildwood, NJ, and talks about coming late to poetry in the National Endowment of the Arts’ “Writers’ Corner”. Her collection offers eloquent testimony to the struggle to make sense of the present through conversation with the past. Of Eternal City: Poems, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Graber is one of the most interesting, slippery and philosophical new poets to come along in a while… [W]hat makes Graber’s poems so fresh and wild are the associative slips that happen between the distant past and the urgent present.”
The poem we have chosen is titled “Florum Principi.” Enjoy the following excerpt and be sure to pick up a copy of The Eternal City.
Prince of Flowers, who set out to give an order to the multitudes, my collection is so different from your own,
which you filled with the carefully pressed
lectotypes of bear’s ear & foxglove & carpeted with the pink Borealis which blooms so briefly midsummer beneath the Lapland pines.
Mine holds two tarred boxes & boatless oars & the broken sonar equipment, which came with the house & goes on sleeping on a shelf in the garage,
despite the reviving of a neighbor’s Jet Ski – on a hitch in his driveway,
spewing exhaust one moment & stalling the next-
& the honk of a car alarm that sounds all afternoon without reason.
Who can say how the world made strange by our understanding of it
would seem to you, who went to ground before Darwin asked
whether a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created
parasitic wasps, or Charles Wilson Peale exhumed the hull of a mastodon
in a thunderstorm in Newburgh, New York, to prove beyond question
that a mighty species might cease to be. Among specimens of butterflies
you christened agamemnon & mnemosyne & the skin & bones
of the John Dory Zeus faber, a fish whose flank is said to bear the stain
of St. Peter’s thumb, what could have seemed more improbable than change?
The turf roof of your cottage in Hammarby still puts forth houseleek
& the narrow-leaved hawk’s beard. And the shoots sprung from the seeds
of the empress’s honey-sweet Corydalis nobilis still threaten to overtake
Read Chapter 1 and the rest of “Florum Principi,” here.