A red wing rose in the darkness.
After the red bird rises through the night,
it leaves a wing-shaped shadow on the sky.
The teacher asks, If the field is dark
how can the poet see red flight? and would like
one of the boys (his baseball cap pulled low
over his eyes) to answer that we know
the color of our blood from memory.
We don’t need light. A girl would reply
the bird predicts both darting hare and man
whose gesture follows, a lightning run
of fur and tail, the sleek hind legs to leap
into the third couplet where we skip
across the years, both hare and man now gone
only their motions left behind. And then
like sudden grassfire the class would understand
the poet’s awe, why he writes these words instead
of weeping, why the poem must streak by,
bleeding and animal but not quick to die.
I have tried teaching Czeław Miłosz’s ‘Encounter’ several times, but never with much luck. “Encounter” is a small poem that travels great distances. Too often, I’ve ended up explaining Miłosz’s use of narrative, when I would have preferred that my students make their own discoveries about the text. Our favorite poems can be the hardest to teach; it’s painful to watch as students manhandle delicate lines, overlooking the most important words. I used couplets to mirror the relationship between teacher and student, between poem and inter-text. The first draft came very easily, perhaps because I had imagined this scene so clearly before I finally typed it out. In revision, I attempted to imitate the two qualities I most admire in “Encounter”: Miłosz’s economy of language and the purity of his images.
Jehanne Dubrow’s work has appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, The New England Review, Shenandoah, and Gulf Coast. She is the author of a chapbook, The Promised Bride. Her poetry collection, The Hardship Post, won the 2007 Three Candles Press First Book Prize and will be published in 2008.
“Discussing Miłosz” appears in the Fall-Winter 2008-09 v3.n2 issue of Poetry Northwest.