The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Eight (Adair)



Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble
A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud

This week’s poem, “Riding a Koan,” by Virginia Hamilton Adair, moves me for so many reasons. I love the way it sustains the extended metaphor through flights of fancy and torrents of weather and words, connecting the poet and the koan more and more concretely to the elements until the boundaries break down and the koan itself disappears.

In the end, she is alone, and there is work to be done. Regular life. The literal. What a journey she takes us on in so few words.

Adair’s personal and professional life are an inspiration. She published poems in magazines in her twenties (1930’s and 40’s), and unhappy with the publishing world, discontinued publishing for fifty years. She did not publish again until the 1990’s, and her first book came out when she was eighty-three years old and blind. She’d been writing the whole time. In fact, she’d been writing since she was two years old, but the thing is that she wrote for herself and for her own sensibility.

Adair’s husband committed suicide in 1968, and many of her poems deal with that loss and loneliness in a powerful, understated way that I admire, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly, as we see at the end of this poem.

And finally, I’d like to mention how well her poem fits with this blog’s background image and theme of unbridling the muse, or in this case, the koan.



Virginia Hamilton Adair

Riding a Koan
By Virginia Hamilton Adair

My koan waits
unsaddled, unbridled
tied to nothing.

I mount and ride
out of the map
into a tangle of stars.

Currents of grass
move through me,
and the scented rain.

I peer through snow
dust, fire, tornadoes,
into the vulture’s eye.

Suns stampede
cantering through me
in my thicket of bones.

My koan whisks away
flies and words
finally, itself.

The earth opens
like a beak
through which I sing.

Alone on the prairie now
sod to cut
a well to dig.

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