So even though I'm tired, I am going to type out a poem by one of my favorite poets, Elizabeth Alexander. I have sung her praises more than once on this blog. The first time I met her and heard her read her work was when she came to the Dark Room in 1988 or 1989, and she sparkled, as she always does. I remember looking through her book afterwards--her first, Venus Hottentot--and just standing there with my mouth open in astonishment. How could someone so young have written poems so beautifully turned, so full of brilliance, so funky? And in volume after volume (and she also writes criticism), the poems never disappoint. (One thing I always look for in her poems is her use of epizeuxis; she's up there with Shakespeare on that account, good company if you ask me.) These days students at Yale get to partake of her expansive gifts as a teacher, her prodigious talents as a poet, and her incredible warmth as a person. Here's her "Ars Poetica #13: The Idea of Ancestry," from American Sublime (Graywolf, 2005).
Ars Poetica #13: The Idea of Ancestry
Ralph Ellison's house is underground
next door to my house. Somehow we
buried it during the renovation.
The stream of which he wrote, the lullaby
sung softly by its banks is the one
my children sing, in tongues.
Ralph Ellison had an outside child--
shh--it is whispered, but when
will someone tell me the full story?
We buried his house under cast-off
sheetrock, beams, and broken appliances.
Walk in my flowering peony bed
and you'll find it, a TV antenna
made from a bent wire hanger:
what's left of Ralph Ellison's house.
It picks up mysterious whispers.
Copyright © Elizabeth Alexander, 2005, 2008, from American Sublime, Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, all rights reserved.