Archival Features, Poems

Meghan O’Rourke: “Elegy, 1972”

Meghan O’Rourke’s “Elegy, 1972” appears in the Fall-Winter 2006-07 (v1.n2) issue of Poetry Northwest. Of her poem she writes: ” ‘Elegy, 1972’ was written after I had been thinking a lot about the fact that most elegies are for people the author knew, but sometimes it is the people one doesn’t know for whom one feels the most poignant or pressing sense of melancholy. Elegiac loss, in other words, is a metaphor for bigger kinds of spiritual loss, and it’s possible to represent that loss by writing an elegy for the unknown—in this case, say, by writing about a grandfather who died before the speaker was born.

“It’s common to wonder (or worry) about what we will miss out on after we die, but much less common to worry about the events that took place before our birth. This seemed both natural and odd to me — natural, because we know certain things about life before our arrival, and odd, because of course we don’t really know all that much about it. It took a long time to figure out the form of this poem — it was in tercets, for ages — and the lineation almost always flawed. It wasn’t till I had been living with it and playing with it for a few years that it found a formal structure–that stepped couplet–that I was happy with, and seemed to represent a sense of overlapping yet disconnected lives that got to the heart of the relationship I was exploring.”

Elegy, 1972

Flags breeze over tarmac in the club lot,
container ships steam up the coast,

smokestacks like cigars
between the loose lips of the bay.

Your nine iron drawn back for the swing,
a half-chuckle: that’s where you left off,

in the surf of bees and grass
at the twelfth hole, the remnants

of the host beneath your tongue,
business card in pocket (President, American Shipping).

You inform me your business was curiosity,
I ask you to come close.

Footsteps rustle in the witchgrass,
cotton cuffs switch past, the stalks stir.

How lucky it is I was born
to tell you the way it all turned out.


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