Occasional Poetry, Part 2

setsubun

As a working poet, I often have the opportunity to write for specific circumstances, as I mentioned a few days ago when I offered the poem I wrote for the wedding of some friends many years back. This is called occasional poetry. It is a more public poetry, in comparison with what might be considered the “more intimate … lyric” poem (Sugano 5).

Wikipedia tells us:

‘As a term of literary criticism, “occasional poetry” describes the work’s purpose and the poet’s relation to subject matter. It is not a genre, but several genres originate as occasional poetry, including epithalamia (wedding songs), dirges or funerary poems, paeans, and victory odes. Occasional poems may also be composed exclusive of or within any given set of genre conventions to commemorate single events or anniversaries, such as birthdays, foundings, or dedications.’ (Occasional)

Some occasions are not as obvious as those listed here. For example, many years ago a good friend ended up on the wrong end of a restraining order from her roommate and bunked on my couch for three days while she sorted it out. When the judge had thrown the roommate out of court and out of my friend’s apartment, and after all the dust had settled, my friend had an Exorcism Party, for which I wrote the following poems. The goal was not only to celebrate the end to an excruciating time but also what I think of as the prophetic task of reminding us to forgive our enemies eventually.

The Exorcism, First Movement: The Beans

oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi

(out with the devil, in with good fortune)

In this place, we rise and shout:

Good luck in and demons out!

To darkness that has gathered here,

We now demand: Go! Disappear!

In foreign lands, where now sunlight

Is rising silver on beached stones,

Many-colored demons wrapped

In deerskins wander winter night

Free. They fear one thing alone.

They tremble when they hear beans tapped

Together, gathered for the rite

Of Setsubun, Bean-Throwing Fest,

Which, every February, means

The end of winter-darkened fright.

All folk have ways to expel the Beast;

There they drive it out with beans.

But here no Oni stalk our night,

Steal our rice, upset our shelves

Or walk the night to work us ill.

It’s with each other that we fight:

The dark fire is within ourselves

To stoke or extinguish as we will.

Now in this place, we rise and shout

To darkness that has gathered here,

Forgiveness in and anger out!

We eat the beans. It disappears.

The Exorcism, Second Movement: The Book

The book proclaims

that God’s voice

strips the bark from trees

standing in the wilderness

arms raised–

Your money or your life–

How long O Lord–

How long can I stand

here without skin. The wind is cold;

the thunder cracks through; each layer

around layer cowers.

The book reminds

that wilderness is wild

but not empty.

Look!

the voice shouts,

you do not stand alone:

all around you I have planted

my people, whose arms reach out.

Now

the voice whispers

Now

I will sing you

into new skin.

We Speak of Exorcism, Yet

demons never lived here. Just a woman

surrounded by light, who ground the heels of her

palms into her eyes, a woman surrounded

by the spirit, who steadfastly refused

to inhale. We must know the spirit; like a child-

woven paper chain, it rises and falls

here between us, these people you have

called to your side in trouble. We all have

breathed, these forty days, its freshening wind.

The spirit is the only part of God

I trust: out of darkness, invisible eyes see us

in our frailty. We skitter below like woodmice

cowering alone–we think–waiting,

praying for the spirit to swoop down,

not a dove but a hunting owl: accurate,

terrifying, saving us.

When She Has Finally Moved Out

After the room has emptied, you weigh

the air between winter-locked windows

with your kitchen scale: lighter, easier

to breathe now. You take a sip

of tea, the saucer in your left hand as

you wander, a sacrament. Liberated

like this air, like this room’s white door

now you are swinging

wide

open–

setsubun-1

Occasional Poetry. Wikipedia. 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 April 2015.

Sugano Marian Zwerling. The Poetics of the Occasion. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.

3 comments on “Occasional Poetry, Part 2

  1. That is a great poem! And you are clearly an awesome friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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