Angela Patten – The Window

Patten LE P&W February 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing February 2024.

The Window, poems by Angela Patten.

The Window

I never met my grandfather,
a stoker on a steamship
who died at 57 of pneumonia.

But our mother loved him
and she made us feel as if
we had known him too.

Her gift was to put us there
with her in the tiny house
at the top of the cobbled street,

kicking her button boots
against the rungs of a chair,
a ribbon straggling by her ear

as she watched for his burly
shadow at the window,
the outline of his sailor’s cap

and the big canvas seabag
slung over his shoulder.
We could almost hear

his deep-voiced Dublin accent,
smell the salt and sweat of him,
the wet aroma of his woolen jumper

after weeks away at sea.
Her sadness when she talked about
my poor father, my poor mother.

Only now, among these freshwater
lakes and rivers, far from the sea,
I understand exactly what she meant.

Geese – A Love Poem

On the highway’s gravel shoulder
a goose with a gaggle of goslings
waddling beside her.

Urban birds so common
they have become forgotten
except for their indiscriminate
droppings on greenways
and golf courses, a menace
to the built environment.

But this noisy brood is perilously
out of place, close to the line
of buses, cars and trucks
that thunder past, a crush
of armorplated rhinos
kicking up the dust
en route to the watering hole.

You’ve been watching
all week on television
the frightened faces of refugees
fleeing an invading army,
babies clutched to their chests,
dusty indigo robes flapping,
everything they could salvage
strapped to their backs,
their ruined villages smoking
behind them in the dust.

Back on the highway
the goslings’ furry heads
move up and down
like bobbleheaded dolls
while the mother tries
to protect them with her body
as if she could withstand
a metal hurricane
with only her feathers
and her warning honks.

Linguistic Anthropology

“It’s only words and words are all I have/to take your heart away” 
The Bee Gees

The story goes that once upon a time
the family of languages set off
on pilgrimage around the world.

Some traveled the trade routes of the East,
some took the waters in ancient springs.
All stayed connected like hands
clasping each other in a human chain.

Pidgin was spoken, goods were traded.
It was a glorious cacophony.

There are 7,097 living languages in the world today
though some are experiencing the aches of old age—
exhausted verbs, arthritic nouns—
the difficulties of keeping up with the young.

In the New York Metro area live native speakers
of 800 languages. Imagine the verbal traffic-jams,
the nods and shrugs, the glottal stops,
the clicks and fricatives, all that joyful noise.

Worldwide one language dies out every fortnight.
Even the word ‘fortnight’ is threatened
with becoming merely ‘two weeks’ any day now.

My father, the hardest-working man I’ve ever known,
was made redundant after 25 years on the job.
Think of that word—redundant.

Sometimes forgotten words surface in my head
like bubbles rising in a stream—
plimsolls, jotter, hoover, father—
words I never questioned,
only took for the thing itself.

People keep inventing things, then inventing
names for them. When will it stop?

When the last known speaker of a language
dies, it is called “language death.”
Do the other languages lament,
each in its own tongue?

Cristina Calderón, last known native speaker
of the Yaghan language, died at 93.
I wonder what was the last thing she said?
And to whom?

© Angela Patten

Angela Patten’s publications include four poetry collections, The Oriole & the Ovenbird (Kelsay Books 2021), In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books 2014), Reliquaries (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2007) and Still Listening (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 1999), and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories From An Irish Childhood (Wind Ridge Books 2013). Her work has appeared in many literary journals and in anthologies including The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing; The Breath of Parted Lips Volume II; Birchsong I and II: Poetry Centered in Vermont; and Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poetry. Born and raised in Dublin, she maintains dual citizenship in Ireland and the United States, where she has lived since 1977. She is a Senior Lecturer Emerita in the English Department at the University of Vermont.

3 Replies to “Angela Patten – The Window”

  1. Oh my goodness. How is it that your newest poems only get better?
    My fav of these three? The last: Linguistic Anthropology. Of course, the language and the cadence are a pleasure to read. But the concept; the idea of it – so simple and obvious – but we needed you to bring it to our attention. Just brilliant.
    I loved the other 2 as well.
    Thank you for sharing them.

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