A Praise to the Last/Vesper
(Listen) A conversation in poetry between a father and son.
I love a praise poem. My recent collection of poems, Miracle Strip, can attest to that. As I was writing A Praise to the Last, I contemplated what really matters in the end. What do we cling to? What is real? Is it the lessons and sermons we learned from our youth? Is it our blessed accumulation of things? What will it be like to take that last mysterious step into the unknown? Will it be tender, surging, and desperately awkward as that first impossible kiss? Or will it be imbued with the poignancy and honey-sweetness of our last kiss?
I was very moved to read Isaac's poem, Vesper. I love how he took my words and fashioned them into something silver shining and beautifully different. I feel so blessed to be the father of someone so immensely gifted and talented. I feel so lucky just to be his father. Happy Father's Day, y'all.
A Praise to the Last
Is this how spawning salmon feel? Tender, surging, so desperately awkward? Is this why skydivers step into empty air? To glimpse the world laid out in sensible symmetry? The piercing bite of dandelions. The taste of blood and earth, and sweet Jesus! such pleasure. No one told me this truth. No preacher railed this good news from street-corner or pulpit. My father never tossed me these words in the side-yard. No teacher wrote them in lesson plans or scrawled the truth of them across the board in quivering chalk lines, every kiss but the last kiss is a lie.
Vesper is a poem about itself, or what makes it up: words stolen cleaved together and back. During the height of the pandemic, trapped in a small apartment 800 miles from home with no end in sight, cloistered and wracked with wórld-sorrow, I swathed myself in my favorite poetry; there came Vesper. Between polemic and praise poem, I wrote Vesper wrestling with received language, forms and allusion. A pseudo-cento-sonnet, most lines reference at least one other poem—what’s mine is ligature, rhythm, shape.
My dad is an endless font of inspiration; I find so often when I am caught in a poem, stuck on some line who refuses to fit, I fall back on his patter, or a strangely used word he used first. What a gift to grow up around such a poetical titan, and to be his kid! Happy Father’s Day, y’all!
—Isaac Charliemagne Griffin-Layne
by Isaac Charliemagne Griffin-Layne
You must change your life. Write it word by word by word—and if the ink spills, blurred by these black hours (the words the rains have bled) —in stone,—and if the stone your words resist, a chain of stolen pearls from something dead, or flowers patient plucked from withered grass. In the side-yard, my father tossed me this, —Every kiss is a lie but the last. It is the poets’ fault that day must turn to night. —they desperate spun a thousand aubades each one from dimming moonlight; their words like flowers fade. In the gloom their faces pass, and pass muttered praises to the last.
Poet, librarian, raconteur; Matt Layne has been poking hornet's nests and looking under rocks for lizards and snakes since he was knee-high to a peanut peg. A founding member of the 1990s improvisational poetry collective, The Kevorkian Skull poets, Layne believes in the radical transformative power found in the intersection of poetry and art, and he wants you to write your truth and share it out loud. A multiple Hackney Award winning writer, he has also been recognized by the National Society of Arts and Letters and been featured in Peek Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, Steel Toe Review, B-Metro, and elsewhere. Look for him at your local library.
Isaac Charliemagne Griffin-Layne writes for the moments after waking and before sleep. Born and based in Birmingham, Alabama, Isaac has been a published poet since age five, and has studied with Michael Hersch, Marlo Starr, and Mary Jo Salter.
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