Returning from the dead… a patchwork poem

If you read this poem, write to me.
I had grieved, I had wept for a night and a day,
A gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself, I learnt that
I liked you better the way you were.

(Does that come as a surprise?)

In restaurants we argued,
My shoulders falling down like teardrops.
You might have killed me with your hatefulness;
With your bitter, twisted lies.

(Did you want to see me broken?)

But finally there came the night
I looked into your blank eyes
And I knew. I knew by the sly light,
You were going away from me, dwindling.

(Why were you beset by gloom?)

Then you were gone. Then you were legend, language:
Lugging your fretful love, pathetic and hollow.
I grieved. I wept for a night and a day –
Weakened by my soulful cries.

(Didn’t I take it awful hard?)

I always believed this – “Still I’ll rise.”
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
In which at last the door fell open.
“I am going to have it”, I said.

(Does my sassiness upset you?)

And I greeted him, and asked him into the house.
My unfastened blouse gathered around, he took my mouth.
Holding each other’s splendoured things.
Pumping in the living room at the meeting of my thighs.

(Does my sexiness upset you?)

When I rose out of my sheets, his lower lip
Returned from my breasts – I howled, shrieked, clawed,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide –
Crystal swamps and the death…

(Does it come as a surprise?)

It’s then on waking I rise up glowing –
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear,
In a shawl of fine air, healed, able.

(Did you want to see me broken?)

You may write me down in history –
Croaking your cuckold name, disinherited, out of your time –
But if you read this poem, write to me:
You’ll see what our love might have done, had we loved in time.

(Does my haughtiness offend you? Does it come as a surprise?)

_____________________________________________

This is a patchwork poem, using lines from the following poems:

As Children together – Carolyn Forche
They eat out – Margaret Atwood
Still I rise – Maya Angelou
from To restore a dead child – Keith Douglas
Mrs Lazarus – Carol Ann Duffy

A visitor – Mary Oliver

This poem was produced as part of Patchwork Thursday – click here to see what other poets have done with the same source material.

The idea is to use whole lines from other people’s poems, aiming to change as little as possible, though it’s OK to change persons and tenses and conjunctions if necessary (I’ve done this a lot in this poem – I’ve also stuck some short lines together because four-line verses looked much better on the page).

I loved reading the poems that people suggested – such a strong voice in them! I was struck by the idea of sleeping with someone else after another relationship ends that comes through in the Carol Ann Duffy poem – which seemed to be echoed by some fantastic images of grief, recovery, vitality and sexiness in the other poems. And slowly it all came together – the questions in the Maya Angelou poem seeming to give a natural shape to the poem. It was quite tricky incorporating lines from poems where the line breaks fell in strange places in the sentences, but it was very satisfying when I managed to find two lines from different poems that fitted together!

It’s interesting that, as with the last patchwork poem I wrote, it’s pastly my story and partly not. The description of the fighting in restaurants and the delight in the strength of the recovery are very much mine. As, I must admit, is the feeling of wanting an ex to contact you, not because you want them back, (as they might think, and as it sounds at the beginning of the poem) but so that you can show them how vibrantly you have recovered, and how wrong they were about you.

But I’ve not used sex as a path to recovery – the sex came in because I loved the lines and enjoyed putting them together in this way. And I’m nothing like as bitter as the mood of the last verse suggests – none of the poems had lines that quite allowed me to express my real thoughts about my ex, but there were some great lines that I decided I’d use instead even if they gave it a much angrier ending.

The title, of course, reflects the Lazarus story in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem – but here it’s the woman who returns to life.

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8 responses to “Returning from the dead… a patchwork poem

  1. For interested patchworkers, here’s a version showing where the lines came from and what I changed – initials refer to the poets names. Do you think I changed too much?

    Returning from the dead…

    If you read this poem, write to me – CF,
    I had grieved, I had wept for a night and a day, CAD
    [A] gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself. I learnt that CAD
    I liked you better the way you were. MAt

    (Does [that] come as a surprise?) MAy

    In restaurants we argue[d], MAt
    [My] shoulders falling down like teardrops. MAy
    You [might have] killed me with your hatefulness; MAy
    With your bitter, twisted lies. MAy

    (Did you want to see me broken?) MAy

    But finally there came the night MO
    I looked into your blank eyes MO
    And I knew. I knew by the sly light; CAD
    [You were] going away from me, dwindling. CAD

    (Didn’t you take it awful hard?) MAy

    Then [you were] gone. Then [you were] legend, language: CAD
    Lugging [your] fretful love,/ pathetic and hollow. KD, MO
    I [] grieved. I [] wept for a night and a day, CAD
    Weakened by my soulful cries. MAy

    ([Didn’t I] take it awful hard?) MAy

    I always believed this -/ “Still I’ll rise.” CF/ MAy
    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear MAy
    In which at last /the door fell open. MO, MO
    “I am going to have it”, [I] said. CF

    (Does my sassiness upset you?) MAy

    And I greeted him, and asked him into the house. MO
    [My] unfastened blouse /gathered around[, he] took my mouth. CF, CF
    Holding each other’s /splendoured thing[s]. CF, MAt
    Pumping in the living room /at the meeting of my thighs MAy, MAy

    (Does my sexiness upset you?) MAy

    When I rose out of my sheets,/ his lower lip MO/MO
    Return[ed]/ from my breasts – I howled, shrieked, clawed! MO/CAD
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide – MAy
    Crystal swamps and the death… CF

    (Does it come as a surprise?) MAy

    It’s then on waking /[I] rise up glowing KD, MA
    Up from a past that’s rooted in pain MAy
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear MAy
    In a shawl of fine air, healed, able. CAD

    (Did you want to see me broken?) MAy

    You may write me down in history MAy
    Croaking your cuckold name, disinherited, out of your time… CAD
    [But] if you read this poem, write to me: CF
    [You’ll see] what [our] love might have done,/ had we loved in time. MO

    (Does my haughtiness offend you? /Does it come as a surprise?)

  2. well all i can say is wow.. i cannot even belive you did this.. this is awesome.. bravo!!!! what a feat!!!!

  3. Amazing work you did here. It stands on its own.

    mindplay

  4. Beautiful poem. I especially like the questions as breaks between the stanzas, as far as the form goes. I didn’t change anything at all in my patchwork, except leaving off the end punctuation. It’s a more surreal read.

    I have a hard time changing lines of poems from published poets who haven’t given me their permission, but at the same time, I see how you’ve created a lovely poem in its own right.

  5. i liked the way you put those lines in parenthesis. That made the poem more intimate.

  6. Thanks for your comments. I don’t quite know where the idea of putting the questions like that came from!

    I’m really looking forward to checking out everyone’s poems now the weekend’s here and I have time for such things.

    Christine, I know what you mean about the works of published poets. I was a bit reluctant to do anything with them at all as they are all such fantastic poems! But once I got started the poem I wanted to write sort of took over and I knew what alterations I wanted to make.

    I like your way of doing it too – it’s purer, and does have a different feel to it and an interesting unpredictability.

    Perhaps I should allow a little more surrealness into my poetry….

  7. Lirone, I love the braveness of changing the other poet’s lines as you did. On my first attempt at a Cento I didn’t change any of the lines. But, as time goes maybe I will get braver. As far as the flow of this poem is concerned, I felt it worked well. You carried a strong sentiment throughout. A breakup is always hard but, when you know you’ve moved on it is so empowering. Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend.

  8. I’m not sure it’s braver to make changes… perhaps less humble!

    For me my reluctance to “mess about” with other poets lines was something I had to get through to begin using the lines at all – after which changing them a little didn’t seem like such a big deal.

    Once I got started I wanted to tell a story using the words and images they had used – and I made the changes I needed to link those words into the story I wanted to tell.

    It’s probably a good idea to try both changing and not changing – perhaps next Patchwork Thursday I’ll I try a completely unaltered one!

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