A Corona of Sonnets
dedicated to the philosopher Mary Midgley (1919-2018)
The self’s wholeness, then, is not that of a billiard ball, but that of an organism. —Mary Midgley
Since I’ve been furloughed from social routine,
this goddess kites in and squats on the raft
of my tongue. She’ll maybe soothe a few spit-dolls,
spin a slow tune from the sixties. Nip some
red plonk. She pretty much taught me how
to just sit in a room with the earthly intelligence—
that old horse eye, that legged piano. The gaze
of rain water, the elm’s benediction. Listen.
Why did the bargain insist I must scatter whole
lung-spans of days to life’s outer circumference?
My fifth decade of hours makes me feel as I figure
I did when I was not yet. Forgive if I fuse
such fully habited silence with god—this song
the one means of petting the mind of a dog.
Freedom’s meaning is only clear when we specify just what we want to be free from and free for. –Mary Midgley
I prize what praise phrases, and I could keep
riffing all night on the fourteen-spotted
ladybug buried in love’s hush-hush mission
of dishing up flavonoids. Then there are days,
out of hope, I devote to harassing capitalism—
its barefaced abortions of so many creatures’
destinies. My brain says to bug. But to sing
is to stash in a phonic grow house this spliff
of deep sea. A stride of trombones. It is
to be what one is in the most slowly debuted
state of risk. To sit still on purpose is no doubt
the birth of defiance’s footwork—the one great
too-muchness translating her mind into yours
for the ungodly price of a flick of your Zippo.
Leaves relate not only to other leaves, but to fruit, twigs, branches and the whole tree. —Mary Midgley
I have this idea that the sounds of stowed words
could slipper us into some new, non-tribal unities.
This syncs with a view of the mood of the line
as mode of communion. Which flies in the worried
face of the clank in the world. Which maybe
suggests it’s our due to vacate clans. Doing so,
maybe we’ll cruise on past the moving walkways
of meanness. In so many verbs, the work insists
we preserve reality access for all—the full while
we keep letting nerd gods execute prog.
This will more or less force us to slim
to the singular plural pronouns we us our—
to heap upon thief and monk. Kestrel,
owl. Eel, elm. Urn and snack bar.
The beast within us gives us partial order. –Mary Midgley
Number 14 rings with a keen single-mindedness:
Knows to lean into life’s code of intensities, says Tru
Numerology—14’s pair of sevens encrypted in
music of Bach. Counting from one to 14 can
take up to 15 short breaths. This intensifies sex.
Simply playing cantatas means we might pause a shared
numbness. Number 14 will find it sometimes struggles
with too many interests: i.e., how woodlice might
scissor their 14 legs in 2 rivers of 7, or how time thinks
it’s ripe to flick out a line to the 5th Dimension.
14 prefers that its flights of genuity further some goal:
perhaps to unshine brutality’s boot heel. To remind
how money’s a thing as made up as inches. Exactly
how to chip out a self from one’s own number-anguish.
Understanding a habit is seeing what company it keeps. –Mary Midgley
I keep drinking up ways to make power zones
fear me. I name each day Che, and my line
of brindled defiance Extreme Thomas Merton.
Because we trade in one another’s braveries.
Because the bowed world is spun by rhythms.
Because I have made of my ratty throw pillows
itemized hitmen. Because I’ve been made to
christen the monk in each person a peer outlaw.
Because who doesn’t tithe to the nighttime’s
four stentorian oarsmen? Because vowels sip
blood just for the o’s in it. Because please just
put your cell phone into contemplative mode.
Because couplet is coup, the sonnet monastic.
Please meet my new saffron dress, Malcom X.
To be free, you have to have an original constitution. –Mary Midgley
Writing a sonnet leaves the smell of alphabet
on the palms: this plane of fleck-tones, these
prows of clouds hewn in a word in the hand,
like, say, Hamtramck. The steadily possible song
bequeaths us its mutating rooms. Its dawns. Its sizzle
of micro-liberties might be the best we can ask
in an age of seclusion and pen. Of open-air prison.
Perhaps the most urgent maturity is the mortal
as mystic, a rotating someone noting the noon
of removal of difference between public and private—
that rabid hat trick of autocrat-tyranny.
Maybe the it we most need is one human hand
scrounging his murse for his Earth certificate,
scoping the moon as it swills its queued Orangina.
We are not usually in lifeboats. –Mary Midgley
The self puts itself between I and the other:
This leads each to repeat cruelties.
There is no other; therefore, there’s no I.
The merge of subject-object is Nirvana’s mother.
There is no this|that; therefore, there’s no either.
The self recreates things other than they are:
There is no I, and thus I lung inside my brother.
The merge of subject-object is Nirvana’s daughter.
A first and last name always make for good cover.
The self puts itself between I and the other.
If it isn’t one thing, it’s the thing’s father.
There and Not-there hem their haws with each other.
I sing my signature in untraceable air—
what in us is one: the single thing we are.
“I recommend reading Adrienne Rich’s Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations. I am rereading it now and find it lifesaving!”
Diane Raptosh’s fourth book of poetry, American Amnesiac (Etruscan Press), was longlisted for the 2013 National Book Award. The recipient of three fellowships in literature from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, she served as the Boise Poet Laureate (2013) as well as the Idaho Writer-in-Residence (2013-2016). In 2018 she won the Idaho Governor’s Arts Award in Excellence. An active ambassador for poetry, she has given poetry workshops everywhere from riverbanks to maximum security prisons. She teaches literature and creative writing and co-directs the program in Criminal Justice/Prison Studies at the College of Idaho. Her sixth book of poems, Dear Z: The Zygote Epistles will be published by Etruscan Press in summer 2020. As part of a triptych of books by female poets, her collection Run: A Verse History of Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for president in the U.S.) will be published by Etruscan Press in spring 2021. www.dianeraptosh.com