Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Heart Dies of this Sweetness

Today's Weekend Wisdom photograph (my rain-drenched Rose of Sharon) is inspired by poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly, whose work was introduced to me last summer by  Darcie Dennigan during a three day poetry workshop. The poem, a beautiful rhapsody/tragedy, entitled The Rose of Sharon, published in The Orchard can be found in its entirety here. This poem came to me yesterday when, peering through a southern facing bedroom window in my home, I noticed how my enormous Rose of Sharon (three of them grouped together, actually) was lunging forward toward lofty, water-jammed downy cheeks that pressed back the noon sun. Wet and heavy with storm, the branches dangled perilously above smaller hedges and a pine tree. We've let the lot go wild. It's outgrown the bed, become unruly and, I'm afraid, is moving toward a mass beheading.

(And what I've done to Tree of breath, Pride of my heart, Pool of my scented breath is simply unforgivable!)

I didn't know a thing about Kelly's work before last year. I returned to her poems, more than just The Rose of Sharon, only of late—for their soothing, pleasing prosody, the juxtaposition of violence and splendor, and for Kelly's general approach to our protean world.

Here, a heart wrenching poem from Kelly's collection of poems, Song.


Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat's head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly,
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat's headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped. . . .
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train's horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat's body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat's torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke. . . .
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn't know was that the goat's head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn't know
Was that the goat's head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother's call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.


  1. It would be silly to pick out and repeat a line of this poem to tell you which I liked best. It's a strange thing, unbearable and spirit-moving, disturbing and consoling at the same time.

    Where do such ideas come from? I shall follow your url.

    1. Friko- You've cut to the heart of it. Just like this poem cuts deep, and heals just at severely--Kelly blends these worlds of emotions beautifully. A poet's poet she is. I'm quite inspired by her work.

  2. I like your description of what you see. A great beauty,raised in formality, allowed to let her hair down. She blooms at a time, when everybody else is calling it a day.
    Your photo reminds me of one of my favorites, Georgia.

    1. Oh, Scott, this brings to mind more than just the Rose of Sharon! Heh.

      Georgia. Thank you! (She's one of my favorites, too.) I couldn't possibly have captured it with a brush, but my iPhone is pretty darn skilled. ;)

  3. And I thought Hemingway had what is called a "hard athleticism" to his work. This was stark and uncomfortable for me. However, I see so much relevance for the harshness of our culture today. Maybe if more people read this, their hearts will soften and Hope will emerge. Thanks for sharing, Jayne!

    1. Michael- Yes, good call! It is, indeed, start and uncomfortable, but to me, it's comfortable in that it bears a luminous reality. Sort of like a fairy tale, as Leonora mentioned below. I agree with you--Kelly is under appreciated, and she's precisely the kind of artist who can offer many hope.

      I don't know if you read Kelly's poem The Rose of Sharon via the link. It's worth it. It takes a distinct turn midway through that's fairly shocking--especially upon first read!

  4. first thought at the gravity of this poem and the way you have nested your words around it...i cannot pick the most resonating sentence or stanza as it would do a disservice to the surrounding parts...
    excellent work jayne...i can see your style developing and maturing..and i like it...keep going! :)

    1. I've dreamed of this poem, Dan, grave as it is it seeps into the deep recesses--Kelly has a way of doing that. Each phrase resonates (it is hard to present one as more powerful or sensual--every line is so finely carved), and I love how she worked the enjambment in this poem. Does their mean I'm maturing, Dan. Heh. Grays and all, yep. I guess it's about time. ;)

    2. noooooo...not in that way haha...hell gander at my grizzled grey visage...
      anyway on another note yes i read that pome again..and be sure it is an extremely powerful piece

    3. I know, Dan! And I like your grizzled grey visage, the, um, fashionably rebellious-scholar look. ;)

      I think you'd like a lot of Kelly's poems. Now I'm going to go kill my Rose of Sharon. ;)

  5. Painfully beautiful. It begins (for me) like a fairy tale. And as all fairy tales go, they are harsh and very real, yet told in the realm of beauty.
    Interesting timing on your post- The love song I posted yesterday by Bobby Whitlock was written in response to a man who had killed his dog. It's a sweet and beautiful song, composed out of sadness but also written so the man who killed the dog would hear it and always be reminded of what he had done.

    1. Leonora- Fairy tale, exactly. Her writing has a kind of surreal aura which appeals to me. And the stark contrasts and darkness appeal to my edgy side. Sometimes she throws in a phrase or even a word that pulls you back from her writing. Whiplash!

      I have a sad story that I've been trying to write and reading Kelly is helping me through the process. I don't much like writing sad, dark stories unless I can get them to echo a real truth, hope and sweetness--if only I could figure it out! Argh.

  6. all i can hear in my head is 'strange fruit' as brought back to life by cassandra wilson

    thank you for sharing

    1. Oh my gosh, EG--the first time I heard that song (written as a poem) I was chilled to the bone! We talked about the lyrics (first sung by Billie Holiday) in a class I took not long ago. Very sadly vivid song.
      For anyone interested, here are the lyrics. And of course, see EG's reference to the video HERE:

      Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
      Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
      Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
      Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

      Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
      The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
      Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
      Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

      Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
      For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
      For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
      Here is a strange and bitter crop.

  7. been away far too long, and the day i'm back look what i find at the soliloquy: three poems! what a feast, jayne. yes, it is so. always so. an intertwining of black rot and aching splendor.

    i hate mass beheadings—in my case it was the lilacs. i put it off and put it off.but, yes, you are right. eventually it has to be done......

    1. Mignon- Well I'm pleased to offer this buffet of poetry. ;)
      " rot and aching splendor" - yep, that's pretty much the whole of my flower beds, not just the Rose! So sorry for you lilacs, m. That hurts--oh those fragrant beauties! I remember a neighbor of mine, back in the days of the old colonial in the city, had marvelous, pungent lilacs in her yard. I was there every day to sniff 'em as they bloomed. But then again, I just loved old Mrs. Scott and would have done anything to spend time with her. I wonder how many lilac admirers miss yours. :)

  8. Dear Jayne,
    Kelly's Song, has unlaced my heart. So lovely and sad, haunting and inspiring. I wasn't prepared for such a read, but sometimes the element of surprise is everything. Thank you.

    1. Unlaced your heart, Leah. That's lovely. Her poems do have that effect. Every one of her poems has a grander story. I mean, they are a complete story in and of themselves, but you can imagine how these lyrics could easily be put to a short story, or even a novel. That is her mastery--condensing as such.

      My pleasure, dear Leah. :)

  9. For some reason, I can only access your blog via cached copies.
    Anyway, this is definitely heavy. I tried to find Kelly in the library catalog here but there is nothing. I'm sure I can find more online though.
    Thanks for sharing amazing poet.

    1. Ru - my service provider shut down for nearly a whole day. :-/

      Yes, heavy it is. There is plenty online with respect to Kelly. Surprised there's nothing in your library. My pleasure to share. :)

  10. Dear Jayne,
    thank you for making Brigit Pegeen Kelly known to me.
    I love your photo of the rose with rain on the petals. To cut them back - I have my own experiences with that (see gardeninginhighheels), so I am rather reluctant. But of course: if other plants suffer, you have to.
    I see that Rubye Jack had the same access problems as I - but now it works perfectly, and I could put you on my blog-list on Have a good week! Britta

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed her poems, Britta. I had been meaning to go back to her for some time--I so loved her Rose of Sharon poem. You can find much more info on her at or The Poetry Foundation, as well as other sites online.

      It seems the vegetation in the beds around our entire house have bolted. We've been here 14 years now, so it's time to purge not only what we've collected inside, by our outdoor world, as well. I've been working on the interior for some time (it's insane how many magazines I keep!), and with the weather cooling--finally!--it would be nice to get some work done outside. :)

  11. Oh my. This came out of nowhere, thanks to your introducing it with such a gorgeous (and yes, Georgiaish) photo and an ambiguous post title. Was all, y'know, settling in here for a soothing accompaniment to an early morning cup of tea and boy howdy did I ever get wrenched awake; now I'm thinking that I shoulda stood in bed. But, um, in a good way.

    I don't know if you remember an incident of some years ago [Wikipedia, but it's a tough read] in England -- two young boys were convicted of murder for torturing and killing an even younger one. Flat-out horrific in itself, but almost as disturbing was the collective id which it awoke in many adults, who were ready to literally draw and quarter the two older boys. That reflexive response -- wanting to answer undeniable cruelty with further cruelty -- makes me want to weep, almost as much as the initial crime (the one in England, or anywhere else). This poem has a Lord of the Flies horror to it: you don't know if what's making you wince most is (a) the precipitating incident itself, (b) the careful and yes poetic exposition of it in the poem, or (c) the terrible long-term consequences not just for the "collateral damage" victim (the girl who owned the goat) but for the boys. Powerful, powerful, powerfully squirm-inducing stuff. Thanks for introducing me to Kelly.

    You'd think I'd know better by now than to "expect" anything here among the soliloquies... anything other than being wrenched, one way or the other! Suddenly I'm reminded of Alice's "How Doth the Little Crocodile," and the second stanza:
    How cheerfully he seems to grin,
    How neatly spreads his claws,
    And welcomes little fishes in
    With gently smiling jaws!

    Remind me on my next visit here to come armed with a harpoon and steel net. ;)

    1. Well, I hope being wrenched awake by a sweet (ha) poem is a little less offensive than by other means--I'm thinking screeching alarm clock. Or sirens. Or a tornado. Or... heh.

      I do remember the story, but I followed you link to refresh my mind (talk about being wrenched awake). It's horrific story and unfathomable act of violence. Interesting how the influence of violent videos was raised as a possible defense. There's a whole lot more going on there, and I shudder, I do, at the though of the homes (and the home life) in which these boys may have been raised. At some point, a ten year old, no matter what he's viewed on video, knows that the game has gotten too ugly, too disturbing and something (morals! a deep pounding in the chest!) tells him to stop.

      I'd say your (a), (b) and (c), all in equal parts, is the answer. And from your Wiki link: "Prime Minister John Major said that 'society needs to condemn a little more, and understand a little less.'" I'm speechless.

      Alice in Wonderland. Oh, so much to glean from that story. :)

  12. Jayne, even the way you describe your rose of Sharon fills me with inspiration and the desire to become a better writer.

    "I noticed how my enormous Rose of Sharon (three of them grouped together, actually) was lunging forward toward lofty, water-jammed downy cheeks that pressed back the noon sun."

    That is poetry....

    1. You know, Bill, those could have been my spit-filled cheeks, looking right down at those dang roses. Heh. :)

  13. Penelope's FB post sent me here for a poetry/blog experience for which I barely have words right now. There are pieces that make me want to be a much better writer. This is one of them. Thank you for letting the poem speak for itself. xo

    1. Marylinn- So sorry for my late response! I feel the same as you, reading this amazing work--it makes me want to push myself. So glad I left it here to speak to you. ;)