Features, Poems

D. A. Powell: “Tarnished Angel”

photo Trane Devore

This month, we bring you a poem (published in Poetry Northwest Fall-Winter 2009-10 v4.n2) that figures a complex struggle and longing. Musing on its origins, D. A. Powell writes that “Etel Adnan’s Master of the Eclipse includes a beautiful recounting of her friendship with the Iraqi poet Buland al-Haidari, who, being of Kurdish descent, had to leave Baghdad to escape persecution under the Hussein regime. ‘The earth holds nothing new for this outcast,’ he wrote from Lebanon, where he spent much of his exile. Adnan describes an evening with al-Haidari, a conversation she calls ‘The Night of the Angels.’ Describing himself as a fallen angel, al-Haidari says ‘…Only angels are real. But angels don’t last. They reproduce themselves by looking into a mirror and then they die; the reflection they see is a newly born angel…They are supreme go-betweens, like poets.’ Adnan’s recounting of al-Haidari’s spontaneous sermon on angels was one of the sources of inspiration for this poem.

Also, Milton, whose ‘sonorous metal blowing martial sounds’ I was trying to echo in the prosody.

And, chiefly, I was thinking upon the brutal sexuality of the statue of the Archangel Michael standing triumphantly with pronounced loins above the bound and naked body of Satan, an image that has been emblazoned on my mind since I first saw it on the wall of the cathedral at Coventry in 1985. This is where the seed of the poem was first planted, but it wasn’t until reading Adnan and al-Haidari that I considered the statue as a possible subject. But that is the miracle of art, that it sends forth its minions and asks us to wrestle.”

Tarnished Angel

Though they’re slightly eroded, one still might surmise
the commanding force in those tensile coppery legs,
their responsive bent, their brutal extent. I draw up
into myself at their coming; I stumble as one cast out.

Look down on me. I, fallen, would meet him, fallen,
in the blunt blue light of morning. My angry god
would contest his angry god, to clutch at sheer cloth
and recompense of lean, fusible flesh. He was once lost wax.

I long to know his vulgar tongue. To feel the cool verdigris
of his shanks, the clasping down upon my own extremities.
I want to be with the one who will not have me. Will not,
despite our mortal errors, which seem terribly to twin.

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D. A. Powell is the author of four books of poems, most recently Chronic. His poems have appeared in New England Review, A Public Space, Indiana Review, and Barrow Street. He teaches in the English Department at the University of San Francisco.