Poem of the Week | January 04, 2016

This week we feature a new poem by Alice Friman. Friman’s sixth full-length collection of poetry is The View from Saturn, LSU. Her previous book, Vinculum, LSU, won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry. She is a recipient of a 2012 Pushcart Prize and is included in Best American Poetry 2009. Other books include The Book of the Rotten Daughter, BkMk, and Zoo, U. of Arkansas P., which won the Sheila Margaret Motton Prize from The New England Poetry Club and the Ezra Pound Poetry Award from Truman State University. Her work appears in The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, and many others. Professor emerita of English and creative writing at the University of Indianapolis, she now lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College.
Author’s note:

I have always loved the poems of Denise Levertov. I remember a reading she did many years ago after her book Candles in Babylon first came out. When it was over, I felt as if I needed to be scraped out of the chair. So when the Collected came out I bought it and spent many hours in her company. When I stumbled on her poem “The Opportunity” it was as if she were speaking to me, whispering perhaps, the way one confides to a trusted friend, or perhaps to a stranger on a night train. Suddenly, I began to talk back. “Late Night Conversation” is my part of the exchange. It seemed we had a shared life—the sea, the shore, the father one loved come back in a dream. Her images were my images. Her language, my language. We were telling the same story. Only mine, unfortunately, had a different end. After I wrote the poem, I closed the book, and put it away on the shelf.


Late Night Conversation

—from Levertov’s “The Opportunity”


My father, after his death,
appeared to me in a dream. Not
as a rose or young boy as you say
yours did, but wearing his own face.
He came only once, the night after
I buried Mother. He came to take her,
to lead her to the bed next to him,
to lay her down and pretend—
as she had always done—that she
liked it that way.
What stop sign
could I have raised against him?
What magic flower, what words?
He always knew she’d come, the way
she always did when he did a naughty
and needed scolding—her bad, bad boy.


In your poem, your father
returns as a child of six, allows
a kiss and brief embrace. The dream
emerges from the sea. The child’s body
part of it—alive in the vast, plumed endlessness.


I envy your poem and your father.
I envy your dream where the towering
walls of water that come and come
deliver no old wounds soaked in salt
to fester again
but deliver instead
an invitation to wade in, arms open
to greet the watery ghost. A ghost come
simply because your name was daughter,
and all traces of a dingy underlayer
washed clean and white as bone.