Timekeepers


Clocks in Candlelight

Image via Wikipedia

Timekeepers

Tucked in a corner,
half-hidden by the family Bible,
the outstretched arms of
an ancient Timekeeper
reach toward the North,
announce twelve-oh-two,
as they have for a decade.

On the wall across the room,
voicing opposition, a nervous counterpart
ticks off the seconds,
sounds like skittering cockroaches.
Nine-sixteen the
hands extend in reply.

A chimera of light
bursts through the slats of
plantation shutters,
interrupts darkness,
exposes naked dust motes
dancing with fairies.

A cordless phone,
askew in its cradle,
has ceased to breathe.
Musty air,
heavy with mold,
hangs like an oppressive fog.

Generations stare at one another
from adjacent bookcases.
Great-great grandfather glares
at his kin
from atop the highest shelf.
Framed branches of the family tree
tangle,
disperse,
die out.

Edgar Allan Poe sits
propped against a lusty novel.
Irving Stone sidles up
to Nora Roberts.
Beside a blinking modem
a replica of a Rodin bronze
thinks.

On the bottom of a pile
tomes of large slick hardbacks
lie prone,
exhausted from years
of perusal.
The creamy white spines of
World Book Encyclopedias
measure the years
in gold serif print,
hurtle to an end in
nineteen sixty-nine.

Plastic flowers gather dust,
don’t die.

Unobserved,
down the hall,
an old man struggles for air.

I’m re-posting this poem for dVerse Poetics, hosted this week by very talented Charles Miller. The “Chazinator” asks us to fill in the gaps for the reader–that is, give a bit of background on what was happening in your life, expose the dynamics behind the poem.

I wrote this a few years ago during a visit to my Mom in Huntington Beach, CA. At the time, Mom was in early stages of dementia and totally denied what was happening. It was a period of frustration, and even depression for me. I get up early in the morning for some quiet time and when I visit her I close myself in her library/den–the room I describe in this poem. That morning I was in a total funk and couldn’t concentrate at all. So I decided to look around the room and just notice the details, which I ended up writing down in notes. A year or so later, those notes became this poem.

Mom grew up during the depression and was widowed in World War II when my father, a B-24 pilot, was killed. Left with a 3-month old baby (moi) and a small widow’s pension, she had her share of financial worries. When she remarried that became a non-issue, but she still holds on to everything…thus a room that is (as I see it, but I’m a minimalist) cluttered.

The last stanza is pure fiction. I write fiction, so I often fictionalize my poetry as well. However, a few months ago, I gave a copy of this to my mother, but changed the final lines. She does not like anything dark, to put it mildly. Here’s how I “sweetened” it for her:

Final Stanza–

Unobserved,

down the hall,

a woman fondles her memories.

Mom is still alive at 91, has accepted her cognitive limitations, and allows us to see that she get the help she needs. She does require 24-hour caregiving. I will visit the end of the month and see what’s been added to the library!

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29 thoughts on “Timekeepers

  1. kolembo says:

    scittering cockroaches and plastic flowers…and an old man wheezing…and books, and books…
    I enjoyed this very much! and the last two stanza’s back to back turn the thing into magic. The old man is a wizard.

    Like

  2. Chazinator says:

    I stand by what I said earlier. On rereading, the depth of description and the way you embed the time in its many layers stands out not so much starkly, as self-aware; that is, a consciousness that is alive to time and the way it shapes itself around objects and situations. The Gothic feel, is still there when I reread it, though that is not so much misty-eyed Gothic as eyes wide-open-to-the-world Gothic. Excellent stuff.

    Like

  3. ManicDdaily says:

    Wonderful poem – simple, powerful. k.

    Like

  4. ayala says:

    Great poem, Victoria. Thank you for your contribution this year and thank you for your support .

    Like

  5. brian miller says:

    i hope your trip is going well victoria…about to head out the door on mine…thnk you for the amazing work you did in the pub this year…you really stepped up to the plate…pulling double duty at times….you are def appreciated…smiles.

    Like

  6. Ravenblack says:

    I love the details in this. It seems that it would work with either version, the lighter one seems less conclusive. The list of authors of the books on the shelf is interesting — the mention of Poe alone darkens the atmosphere considerably. Love that stanza. (I like books, which is probably why I tend to perk up to that.)

    Like

  7. I have trouble commenting on pieces like this, it’s an absolutely wonderful poem I just feel like I am somehow speaking about your life. I find I notice detail in stressful situations and if they are terribly so then I mentally rearrange things (furniture, books, patterns in curtains, anything) to create some sense of order.

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  8. rmp says:

    wow. I love how easily you bring these objects to life…and then you counteract it with the edges of death. i admit i kind of like the sweetened version a bit, ’cause i was all smiles until the end. but truthfully I think the reaction I had with the last lines tells me you hit it perfectly.

    Like

  9. Evocative intergenerational images

    Like

  10. dragonkatet says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Victoria. As I was reading, I could definitely picture everything you described, only I thought it was maybe an attic (until I got to the part about the modem). I like that you noticed the odd juxtapositions of objects and chuckled at the line about Great-great grandfather glaring at his kin! I like both endings, but I agree with Souldipper on this one and prefer the original.

    I think it is very kind that you changed it for your mom and I commend your loving spirit for doing it. I hope that your visit with her will bring you more smiles and more inspiration for things to write. 🙂

    Like

  11. Arjan Tupan says:

    Very touching, and a great way to describe and capture a lifetime.

    Like

  12. Touching and heartfelt…this is a beautiful on a difficult subject.

    Cheers,

    Mark Butkus

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  13. Edgar Allan Poe sits
    propped against a lusty novel.
    Irving Stone sidles up
    to Nora Roberts.
    Beside a blinking modem
    a replica of a Rodin bronze
    thinks. …

    This is my favorite part! And how very sweet of you to change the end for your mom, I must say I like it better with that end, a little hope and light …

    Like

  14. Chazinator says:

    This really does orient us, your readers, in the life that you live and the circumstances that gave birth to the poem. I like your first ending since it adds a gothic feel to the poem, thereby deepening its narrative of loss and memorial. The prose adds another dimension bringing to the humanity in the poem and a history that embeds it in time, contrasting with the eternalized moment of the poem. That clock stuck on an hour resonates as testament to the human situation as well as the situation of poetry in general vis a vis real life. That is, poetry pulls out a moment of life and makes it stand still, like the hands on the clock standing still.

    Like

  15. claudia says:

    this is great…i felt i was right there with you…and i just love that you changed the closure for your mom..hope you’re having a great time visiting her..

    Like

  16. hedgewitch says:

    i think your poem has many layers, in a totally uncluttered way, of course, ;_) despite the detailed and contradictory jostlings of objects. Our possessions tell our stories as much as our actions or words, I think–each one is a choice we made for a reason of our own which at the time seemed a necessity, perhaps. The clocks were my favorite part of this, illustrating the generational aspect of the whole piece. An excellent poem, whiever ending you use.

    Like

  17. Mary says:

    You definitely have captured this room. When you visit this next time, you should write another poem about what strikes you this time. I remember those old World Books! 1969. If people had encyclopedias at HOME, that was a big deal. Truly I wonder if they make encyclopedias anymore…. And I can see and hear the two clocks. Actually, of the two endings, I prefer the one you shared with your mom.

    http://inthecornerofmyeye.blogspot.com/2012/03/this-is-probably-truly-not-poem.html

    Like

  18. Fantastic write! I could see every detail so clearly, I thought, “Oh, yes, I’ve been in that room.” And the finis–real or not–was perfect! I often do the same thing–fictionalize a real scene slightly. I love the poem!
    http://charleslmashburn.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hes-aggravatin-2/

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  19. I like the revised ending, I’m sure it was pleasing to mom as well. Though I still have not found myself around to posting in this department I do find it a good education here. Thanks for all the encouragements!

    Like

  20. Jody Collins says:

    Victoria, I am sitting with MY 91 year old mother in law as we speak…..you captured all of this so perfectly–the accoutrements of a long life. her clock is made of domino tiles.
    smile. wonderful picture!

    Like

  21. brian miller says:

    it is a beautiful capture of the clutter around the room…i love all the details…i can see where the adjustment in the last stanza would have that affect and i like the adjustment as well as it plays off everything in that room….

    Like

  22. leah J. Lynn says:

    This poem almost sounds a bit native american to me, like sitting by the fire and listen to an elder telling a respectful story.

    Like

  23. vivinfrance says:

    A fascinating read – it wouldn’t have been half as interesting if it were written about a minimalist room! Thank you for including the process notes, which flesh out the poem.

    Like

  24. souldipper says:

    Victoria, this poem intrigues and tantalizes. I especially love how all the authors are leaning against each other. I always knew there was more going on with those books than the eye can see! 😀

    The original ending is my choice…real even though in too many ways!

    Like

  25. zongrik says:

    really nice descriptives. especially like Generations stare at one another
    from adjacent bookcases.

    Like

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