The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

The Hen
By Ellen Bryant Voigt

The neck lodged under a stick,
the stick under her foot,
she held the full white breast
with both hands, yanked up and out,
and the head was delivered of the body.
Brain stuck like a lens; the profile
fringed with red feathers.
Deposed, abstracted,
the head lay on the ground like a coin.
But the rest, released into the yard,
language and direction wrung from it,
flapped the insufficient wings
and staggered forward, convulsed, instinctive --
I thought it was sobbing to see it hump the dust,
pulsing out those muddy juices,
as if something, deep in the gizzard,
in the sack of soft nuggets,
drove it toward the amputated member.
Even then, watching it litter the ground
with snowy refusals, I knew it was this
that held life, gave life,
and not the head with its hard contemplative eye.


"Sometimes one moment of experience, one memory, can epitomize something central about a life. More than a metaphor or an image, not figurative but literal, the flash of a recalled minute tells the essential story," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "A new collection spanning 30 years of work by Ellen Bryant Voigt begins with a memorable, eloquent poem of this kind...the poet is present here: in the vividly accurate description, in the peculiar simile for the brain ('like a lens'), in the cool, distancing intelligence of calling the head 'abstracted' (Latin for 'dragged off'). Contrasting verbs at the end dramatize a crucial moment of understanding: 'I thought' introduces a kind of impression or illusion, projecting conscious grief onto the 'convulsed, instinctive' staggering movement. In the next, climactic sentence, the verb is different: 'I knew' introduces the distinct, unflinching awareness that the conscious mind is bound to, and limited by, its mortal host, the body. 'Hard' and 'contemplative' apply to the adamant and reflective nature of Voigt's own genius. She is a poet of knowledge, and knowledge in the living, messy world."

Saturday we went downtown to the Medieval Merriment Family Day and Open House at the Corcoran Gallery, which is in the last days of its Joan of Arc exhibit which we've been meaning to see since it opened -- it was free today along with the rest of the museum, though many galleries were closed (as the entire museum will be for the next three weeks in preparation for the next major exhibit). The Joan of Arc exhibit was focused on the changing image of Joan as warrior, mystic, waifish victim, heretic, saint and national icon in France, England and the US, with paintings, drawings, textiles and sculpture from all three countries as well as many illustrations from books. Our kids were a bit on the old side for a lot of the activities going on - making medieval headgear, balloon swords and a magician oriented toward younger children - but there were also strolling musicians and people in costume, so it was RenFaire-ish enough to be fun for them.

A musician plays a harpsichord virginal in front of a historic fireplace.

The magician performing the old magic rings trick with the help of a volunteer.

Some of the costumed gallery visitors.

There were no photos allowed in the Joan of Arc exhibit, so this is the only image I got!

Two lions guard the front of the Corcoran Gallery, as with so many art museums. This is the awake one...

...and this is the sleeping one.

The Corcoran Gallery is a block away from the White House and we have actually never taken our kids there (too young for the tour while Clinton was in office, too unpleasant an association while Bush has been in office) so we decided to walk by it. I was hoping for protestors with signs, but instead there were a great many tourists taking photos. I wonder whether it was the chilly weather or the mounted police keeping the protestors away. From there we walked another two blocks to the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, which has an exhibit called "Myth or Truth? Stories We've Heard About Early America" through March. Some of the myths examined include the legend that petticoats catching on fire was the second leading cause of death among Colonial women (not even close), the origin of the phrase "mad as a hatter" (apparently because many hatters suffered from mercury poisoning), and the true meaning of the lyrics to "Yankee Doodle" (proper British insults to poncy Americans).

Since it was actually below freezing when the sun set -- a novelty this winter -- we went to California Tortilla for some hot food, in my case tortilla soup again while various family members had nacho chili and honey lime burritos. Got home in time to watch part of the East-West Shrine Game (I think the West won but I was not paying very careful attention). Sunday they are claiming we may get measurable snow -- the kids say it figures this is happening on a weekend when they already have no school Monday due to teacher meetings!

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