Margaret Rockwell Finch

Kate Barnes

If I could dive into the black waters that make
time up, and swim strongly enough
straight down, I could get there again,
I'm sure of it. Perhaps, on some April morning, I'll take

the same train from South Station,
past the wash-lines and small back gardens
until I arrive at Hingham, and the walk
up the long inclination

of Fearing Road, under the new-leafed elms, to Cottage Street,
among the square eighteenth-century houses.
The spring flowers would be up. At the top
Ship Street formerly Fish, I would see the sheet

of open water below, and turn in the gate
to Shipcote, toward the dark greed door on the piazza, hoping,
believing, I could find them all still living
inside, unconscious in their reversed fate,

like a dream in which you never
have to understand you are dreaming.
The tall clock ticks, the sunlight stretches
across the worn Persian carpets forever;

and my father is safely at work on a new book, away
in his study; and my mother is at her desk
in the corner of the long room, some small daffodils
in a green jug beside her. Glancing toward the bay,

I see far out there the three dark shoulders
of islands riding low in the blue height
of this lasting tide. In the fireplace,
the soft fire plays; it neither sparks nor smoulders.

"Mother," I try to call out then, "Mother!" but no sound
comes from my mouth, although I can hear Annie scolding
the milkman at the kitchen door. Not one of them
knows the water has risen over them, that they've drowned

under it. My mother writes on and on, happily, in her
steady hand. Pug snores in his basket at her feet.
But she doesn't look up. How should she look up-
or hear me now, or turn in her chair, or give any answer?

From 'Kneeling Orion' by Kate Barnes
used by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher
copyright © 2004 by Kate Barnes

On Kate Barnes' "Hingham"

n the dictionary there are two words: numen (Roman Religion: a divinity, presiding spirit) and noumenon (an object of purely rational apprehension, opposite to phenomenon; with Kant, a nonempirical concept.) I find no word numenous or noumenous.
The air seemed to change, to shimmer, and develop new levels of emotion and meaning.
Yet years ago, an old German professor, dedicated Kantian (I think), who used to visit us, would frequently use such a word----I can still hear the tender love that went with it. (Had he coined it?) The air seemed to change, to shimmer, and develop new levels of emotion and meaning.

      That is what the air does when I read this poem.

      The opening conversational lines quite take one in, one could almost find oneself replying, "Fat chance!" But, with "Perhaps, on some April morning . . ." there is already a shift, and one begins to feel, "Yes, she could." I love the reality of the motion of the old train in lines 5 to 7, and the change when Barnes begins to walk through the town.

      There follows the long, slow, thoughtful description of details ("the square, eighteenth-century houses"), that is the laying of the trap, to enable her to catch them all off-guard, catch them "all still living / inside . . . " This new level ends with the two "dream" lines, where Barnes finally prepares us for the hinge, in dead center of the poem: the amazing step up in which she herself becomes bodiless and seems to float from the world of "could" and "would" into the world of "The tall clock ticks, unmoving sunlight stretches / across the worn Persian carpets forever . . ."----is that not a perfect expression of the mystery of eternity? She has returned to the eternal present.

      Again her careful words begin to take us in. Everything is building; everything is going to be all right. There are "small daffodils / in a green jug" beside her mother, and "the soft fire plays . . ." But suddenly a cold wind rises; no sound can issue from her mouth, though all else remains unchanged. "Mother!" she tries to call. And we are thrown back, without mercy, into the terrible world of "could not."

     The last two lines express so subtly----so noumenously----a gradual progression. It is from outer to inner, from personal to impersonal: oddly, at the same time. Doesn't a mother, when she hears herself being called, glance up, then listen, then turn, then answer? And at the same time, we travel from an outward appearance to a hidden ear, then to the physical body perhaps just happening, by chance, to turn toward us----and so, on into the deepest shadows where we are always hoping to receive, longing to receive, the answer----even any answer. Whenever I read these final two lines they are like a screw turning in my heart.


Margaret Rockwell Finch has been composing poetry since 1925 and published her first book, Davy's Lake, in 1996. Her poetry has won a Poetry Society of America members award and been published in The Saturday Review, CS Monitor, Passager, etc., and in anthologies including The Poets' Grimm. She is co-editor of the anthology Coming Home Twice (2005).


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