Friday, April 17, 2009

Warren Hatch: "The Fine and Dying Art of Shaping Light into Words"

For my daughters, who argue an extended sense of backyard,
to whom "sleeping out" has grown to mean packing sleeping bags,
Ramen noodles, and Pop-tarts and curving their way like martens
up their steep round hill above our neighborhood. (lines 1-4)

So begins Warren Hatch's "The Fine and Dying Art of Shaping Light into Words" (scroll down), one of the poems in his 2007 collection (his first book) Mapping the Bones of the World. This poetic argument, more of a conversational dialectic really, centers on the interaction between the poet, a woman (I assume the poet's wife), and his daughters, all of whom "speak" to one another one night using flashlights and Morse code.

This conversation of lights illustrates for me a family's shared sense of reaching for meaning, of using a common, familial, even out-of-use language to create intimate connections between generations and across time and space. As here: after the poet, sitting on the hillside behind their neighborhood, has scoured the houses, the park for a familiar, familial shape, he "tap[s] out" his companion's name in light: "c-l-a-i-r-e, hello" (19, 21). And then: "She sees on the hill's lip my sudden blink of light---I am here. / And she knows with the first blink all the following stabs / and stutters of light. And she blinks back steven" (24-6).

"I am here": so the light says. So our light says: "I'm here, watching for you, waiting for you, searching for the light you'll send in return, for the spark that will tell me, 'Yes, I'm here, too.'" Such is the human quest to understand, to connect, to shape words into meaning that can bind us beyond the textual sign.