Friday, March 6, 2009

Poetry Friday: Mary Cornish

Mary Cornish is one of my favorite poets. Her intelligence shines through in every poem she writes, but it doesn't rule her exclusively; rather, her heart and her intellect share the responsibilities and they manage to get along well! That kind of balance is rare. Billy Collins says of her work, "She takes us by the hand and leads us into rooms of wonder." Her book RED STUDIO is simply stunning -- she has such a painterly eye, she always manages to set the scene beautifully as if composing a picture, and yet she makes us see even the absence of objects and people, and she turns us toward memory. The poems in the book deal with both her grief at the loss of a beloved husband and her delight in the real, physical world. Here's one of my favorite poems from that book. In it, Cornish talks about a children's game but manages to say so much more.


Five pears in a wooden bowl,
sun on the table-- cause enough
for celebration or defeat: the skin
of fruit, the flesh of trees.
Out of such ripening, the self
could step from the bowl of the world
into light on pears--
as when children
play Hide the Thimble: the object
always hidden in plain sight,
the search that turns a solid house
quicksilver. Rain falls on the glass
in every room; a curtain flickers
over the sink; the sill moves
in and out of shadow.
And the children say,
You're getting cold,
you're getting very hot.
Now leaves fuse
on the window, shimmer
from a moving branch outside.
Light breathes on the table
across my husband's hand--
it is smoke
and a cloud, and a fugitive servant..

The flame of five pears, gold
as honey, the stillness of the bowl
that holds them in plain sight.
In the wheel-fire of the world:
We're getting hot. We're burning.


Poetry Friday today is being hosted by Anastasia Suen over at Picture Book of the Day. Thanks, Anastasia! (And hooray, hooray, hooray, it is MARCH!!!!)


  1. I have to read this one again and again -- such beauty and depth.

  2. What a beautiful poem! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh! I especially loved these lines. I can feel them in my hands!

    Now leaves fuse
    on the window

    In the wheel-fire of the world:
    We're getting hot. We're burning.

    Thanks for sharing, Julie. I'm going to check out this book.

  4. Oh my word. That is gorgeous. I'm burning.

    I love thinking about poetry (or perhaps this poem) as "an object always hidden in plain sight."

  5. I love this poem almost as much as I love Remains. The focus on things we see everyday, but may not notice, and how their brought to life in the poems is simply marvelous.

    There are some mighty good genes in this family!

  6. "We're getting hot. We're burning."

    Whoa. Thanks for sharing this one today, Julie.

  7. Wow, what an art- to play with children and yet retain sufficient space in her head to keep on seeing the subtle things. Beautiful.

  8. How does she do that: in the midst of setting up a vivid scene with such everyday words then wham, envelope you with such strong feelings?

    Julie, just wanted you to know I love your poems too and am sharing Imaginary Menagerie in my PF post this week.

  9. Department of Full Disclosure - As Tricia already knows, Mary Cornish is my sister. But I swear, even if I didn't know her, she would be a favorite of mine. That said, she's just as good a sister as she is a poet, and we spent plenty of time playing Hide the Thimble when we were kids.

  10. A beautiful poem (sister or not :-), and I love your commentary... especially the idea of balancing mind and heart, presence and absence, grief and delight. That takes some serious inspiration and skill.

  11. Love the optimism in

    "We're getting hot. We're burning."

    We're getting there. We're close, really close. Come on, Human Race, come on, America, we can do it!

  12. I've spent a lot of time gazing at the light that comes over my afternoon table this past year and I just love the lines here about the "flame of five pears, gold as honey". That's the stunning beauty that has me reaching for my camera day after day. This poem does a wonderful job of saying why. Thanks for posting it!