When my friends lost their baby, I
felt a kick
in my gut. “This is not
about you,” the poem warned.
“But my past!” I cried.
“Not you,” poem scowled.
Now that we’re being honest,
what the hell?
I had to be vacuumed
for one body.
We didn’t talk.
I first met Deborah Harper at Rutgers, where we were grad students in Comparative Literature. She was in her first year, and I was finishing classes, on my way to teaching at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. I didn’t really get to know Deborah until much later. For almost a decade, she attended the workshops and poetry residencies that I led in Auvillar, France, for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Poetry was our marvelous meeting place, as we basked in the sun of Southwest France.
Deborah Harper Bono is a singer with an amazing voice. She’s a contralto, but sings tenor, mostly, since that’s most often what’s called for. In Auvillar, she led our poetry participants and the villagers in joyful song. In the ancient Chapelle, locals and Americans all sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” under Deborah’s direction. Music dissolved language barriers. A regular international traveler, Deborah tells me that she’s most proud of her contribution to the London accapella group, the Treblemakers.
Over the years, I have watched Deborah’s poetry develop from tentative lines to bold, witty and honest songs. Her expertise as a singer has folded beautifully into the writing of poetry, where rhythm plays such an intrinsic part.
Of the recent poems that Deborah has shown me, I selected “Some Days You Wake Up” for its positive title and its upbeat lines that provide a strong counterpart to my weeping in “Lost.” As Ross Gay reminds us in Inciting Joy, (Algonquin, 2022), literature can be about happiness as well as about loss. Indeed, joy can be as complicated as sorrow.
The opening lines of Deborah’s poem held me, included me in the “you,” in the confident assertion that the narrator might be “a little stiff, a little anxious…” Ah, our poet knows this reader––many readers––too well! Then we are gifted with wit: “the dog peed /in the Bucharest hotel room…” This is all funny and familiar, but also draws our sympathy when the protagonist is “hiding out” and excluded from the friend’s truck. We’re intrigued! Poetry often implies some hiding, some holding back, and then unburdens itself with truth-telling and the gift of a “moment” when we’ll feel alive.
The the sun is “dressed up,” and we’re ready for the celebration that is poetry in this well-traveled singer’s voice! I look forward to reading more lyric poetry by talented Deborah Harper Bono.
July 23, 2023
Some Days You Wake Up
Maybe you’re a little stiff, a little
anxious, your dreams disquieting — the dog peed
in the Bucharest hotel room where you were hiding out
while the maid tried to roust you, your friend
refused to make room for you in the cab of the truck
that picked the two of you up hitchhiking —
but you wake before the alarm, almost
rested, & dawn unspools in this blinding blazing ribbon
of saffron, fuchsia, as if the sky, its edges faded dusty
blue, had nothing better to do than dress up, wearing the sun
like a jaunty feathered fascinator tucked over one ear,
& whatever happens — this is a moment to be alive.