Holy Saturday: First Draft

There’s a rumor that runs down here under the barrow –
the mound that marks the spot in all our lives
when we stopped getting chances, stopped making choices
when the loudspeaker spoke and we all lost our voices
no more succoring widows or cheating on wives.
But the rumor doesn’t really run, it flies, swift as any arrow

Flies, or rather darts, or flits, more like a sparrow
I guess, the sort of thing that needs to fly
to stay alive, one wing’s beat ahead of the whip –
the slavedriver’s friend, with despair at the tip.
And they never quite catch it, however they try
As it pierces through joint and slips into marrow

And nestles there, although the space is narrow.
You know how rumors are; it’s hard to stop the ear
No matter how outlandish is the news they sing
And this one’s so outlandish that the whip has lost its sting
For it’s the sweetest song we ever hoped to hear:
It says a lockpick’s come, and his heart is set to harrow.


  1. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    This is really strong. It keeps the characteristic wit of your light/occasional verse, but feels more serious. On first impression, it reminds me of Auden.

    As I say, it’s strong — but as you indicate it’s a work in progress, here’s where I think its chief weakness is: The last line. ‘It says a lockpick’s come’ is good, and I really like the lockpick as a figure of Christ. But the image of a lockpick and that of someone intent on ‘harrowing’ don’t really work with each other, at least to my mind.

    Between lockpicking and harrowing, harrowing is more essential to this poem. I’d lose the lockpick (maybe use him as the basis of another poem, or find a place to use that image earlier in this poem). Then, I’d relate that last part about ‘harrowing’ to the very beginning of the poem: the barrow, the mound. Maybe the harrow is going to break up the barrow — if not destroy it utterly, at least rake through it.

    Anyhow, take that unsolicited advice for the $0.000000002 it’s worth. And thank you much for sharing this draft, which is already good.

    Happy Easter.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      It’s good unsolicited advice. Thanks. I’ll keep at it.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        On second reading, I have a retraction and/or Korrektion to make to my own first reaction: I now can see that the lockpick deserves a place in the last line, since the slavedriver and his whip are as important to the poem as any other figures, and the lockpick liberates the slaves. So the real problem is that word ‘harrow’ popping up at the end, not clearly related to anything before (though possibly related to the barrow way back at the beginning). The reader (or at least this reader) just needs a little preparation — little enough preparation that it might take only 3 to 6 syllables of the syllables preceding ‘harrow’ to accomplish.

        But pardon me: I am less interested in dispensing unsolicited advice than in encouraging you to keep tinkering with this good poem until it becomes even better. Now to get out of your way, and make room for any actual poets who might wish to chime in and/or pile on.

        • Matthew Lickona says

          My online dictionary thingy defines “harrow” as “pillage” or “plunder.” Now granted, both those things sound more blunt-trauma forceful than anything a lockpick might do, but “plunder” did call to mind some echo of entering and taking what belongs (or in this case, does not belong) to others. Which is the sort of thing a lockpick might do. “The devil thought he had the keys!” As I said, I’ll keep working on it.

          “Harrow,” of course, is the word that started the whole poem.

          • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

            An excellent point. I try to be more willing to learn as to teach, and with your definition of ‘harrow’ in mind (the definition clearly the same as in ‘harrowing of Hell’), the poem reads better than I’d thought — so I’d better get out of the way for reals now.

            One last comment: The word ‘outlandish’ is the very juste-est mot possible here.

    • I thought Auden too as I was reading, especially this:

      But the rumor doesn’t really run, it flies, swift as any arrow

      Flies, or rather darts, or flits, more like a sparrow
      I guess, the sort of thing that needs to fly
      to stay alive,

      Goota love that use of white space – woohoo!


  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    And I’m guessing — if only by comparison to Blessed Angelico’s interpretation of the same scene infra — that Huys wasn’t a Dominican. Yikes!

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Maybe so, but the edge of Blessed Angelico’s painting flat-out terrified me – the damned woman struggling with the demon, him covering her mouth to keep her from crying out to Christ.

      • Matthew Lickona says

        Sorry – his hand’s not over her mouth. But he is embracing her, much to her dismay.

        • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

          Yes, it’s a scary little detail, somehow made extra horrifying by the quiet, simple sobriety of Fra Angelico’s style. That woman’s damnation is just so matter-of-fact. And although she is as real as anyone else, she has been reduced to a mere side detail in a scene about the other people, who are getting saved. (Incidentally, I considered tagging the post with, ‘LOOKS LIKE IT’S ONLY “PRO MULTIS” AFTER ALL’.)

          But for comfort, I pray you remember the Porter: stunned silly, trampled underfoot, and most definitely not standing to.

  3. Matthew,

    Utterly cavitational in it’s beauty!

    More more more….


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