Vernal Song

Joan Hewitt

for a daughter.


I'm treating your absence as a guest
who doesn't mind my staying
in a nightdress all day long,

arranging and rearranging words
you may not read, and trying
to fill your silence with a song.


I dream you sit cross-legged on the floor.
You're speaking and I'm listening to your voice,

a river just released, which flows
towards and past me over rocks.

It slows each time you smile or frown.
Your back is to the wall and it's not clear

if you are in the dream by choice,
or cornered, talking your way out.

It is your birthday and the Equinox,
when Summertime begins. Is that how you slipped in?

Sunshine falls upon your hands:
the light I won by altering the clocks.

I never understood how all that works.
How light won must also mean light lost.

Joan Hewitt

Joan Hewitt lives in Tynemouth. In 2003, she won the Northern Promise Poetry Award from New Writing North, and was awarded a Distinction in Newcastle University's MA in Writing Poetry in 2004. Her poems have appeared in various journals including London Magazine, Magma, and Southlight, and have been widely anthologised, notably in The Body and the Book: Writings on Poetry and Sexuality (Rodopi Press); 100 Island poems of Great Britain and Ireland (Iron Press); and Not a Muse world anthology (2009, Haven ). In addition, she has been placed in five international competitions, including the Ledbury.

On the poem Vernal Song, she writes:

"Derek Mahon's poems on how the break-up of his marriage affected his relationship with his children are very important to me. At times he creates a music out of this guilt and pain. 'And I think of my daughter at work on her difficult art/ And wish she were with me now between thrush and plover/ Wild thyme and sea-thrift, to lift the weight from my heart.' (Achill Island).

"This poem of mine Vernal Song was written when I had not seen one of my daughters for some years. The night before her birthday I was staying at the artists' residency Cove Park, Scotland, with other women poets, and I only had the first stanza to take to a workshop: four lines, which had been whittled down, with great difficulty but some satisfaction, from forty. Their response somehow validated the actual subject for me. The next morning I woke early, made a few adjustments to it, and fell asleep again in sunshine. And I was rewarded with this lovely dream, which left me with a warm sense of her presence, not her absence.

"I have other poems of absence in the anthology of The Northern Poetry Workshop In Your Own Time (Shoestring, 2012, ed. Gerry Wardle). I now accept that this is a proper theme for poetry: the paradox being that the poem makes present what is missed and is therefore a consolation. Anne Carson writes beautifully about this in her essay The Economy of the Unlost."

See also poet Meryl Pugh's interview with Joan on her writing process, and Joan's previous Poem of the Month.

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Vernal Song © 2012 Joan Hewitt: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.