There are no rules to know a good poem or discover a fine new poet. The good poem sings its own song. It rings true from its first line, the breath, pause and accent right, the sound word-music. As we listen or read we forget ourselves. We believe it as we believe any fine work of art. At first reading at least a phrase stays, a line sings in the mind, an image returns, because it is well observed, well-heard. The poem’s detail surprises, a familiar thing made new. A good poem becomes our own because it could not be said better.
Kaddy Benyon’s poems are physical, earthy, powered by the salt of guilt, the cadences of liturgical language, the familiar stations of the day, close family relationships. Such poetry draws on the rich ground of childhood to question the big subjects: family, love, sin. It stirs primitive fears and desires that are the spark in the steel. Whether these are signs of Catholic and post-Catholic times, I am not sure, but even the ‘urge to slip / my hands inside the soiled, wilting / necks of your gardening gloves’ speaks both of longing for the nurture for a lost gardener-father, and a lost Eden.
Sometimes I have an urge to slip
my hands inside the soiled, wilting necks
of your gardening gloves; to
let my finger fill each dusty burrow,
then close my eyes and feel
a touch of nurture on my skin.
Sometimes I am so afraid my envy
will hack at your figs, strawberries,
or full-bellied beans, I dig my fists
into my pockets and nip myself. Sometimes
I imagine the man who belongs to
the hat hanging on the bright-angled
nail in your shed. I think about you
toiling and sweating with him;
coaxing growth from warm earth;
pushing life into furrows. I am curious
about what cultivates and blooms
there, in your enclosed, raised bed-
yet I want no portion of it for myself.
Sometimes I just want to show
you the places I’m mottled, rotten
and bruised; I want you to lean close
enough to hold the strange fruit
of me and tell me I may yet thrive.
We had to run for the bus after confession,
where waiting for Mother’s silence
I’d made imaginary idols of saints, illuminated
by twenty votives I paid for with flickers
of prayer. We’d no time for my litany
of lies and spite and rage so the priest winked
and told me Next time. I reached for Mother’s
hand, already crammed with beads
clacking together: a metronome for OCD.
her illness worshiped muttering; stations
of the cross mostly but then anything
with a repeating pattern, lost in a hail of Marys.
She let me sit by the window, while, head
bowed she vowed to settle breaths above
the throb and grind of engine. Her hands knitted
together then apart, twisting and fidgeting inside
deliberate sleeves. She looked as old
as the panting man in the soiled mac, uncurtaining
bushes when we stopped at lights. He grinned
up at me, presenting his puffy, purpley
grub. I covered up my eyes and whispered
How soon is next time Mummy? Mum?
Photograph by Jamieanne