National Poetry Month Spotlight: Helen Marie Casey

Two Hundred Words of Wanting
Hands cupped, I wait for the words which will not,
until I catch them, yield anything except hunger.
I wait for happiness, the taste of it a memory
anise-flavored. The plane drones overhead. I am with coffee,
my lips pursed, the words playing tag in someone else’s
lot. Meaning is never as luminous as Gabriel,
hint of a knee on the floor, Mary as bright as he was,
quick to comprehend every word that was not
laid between them, that was not etched
in anyone’s memory. The words I know are halt and lame.
They are not above begging. Sometimes I borrow
elegance, then kneel before a word like cartouche, ravissante,
or nougatine, knowing these words can never fit, knowing
some words are showy, like gypsies on Nevsky Prospekt, reaching
for the right line. I seldom keep them, the lazy words,
overripe, too easy for their own good, like ugly, stupid, dull.
No panache at all. Not like pondscum, blight-riddled,
addle-pated. Every phrase wants a little cilantro, a touch
of cumin, a saffron thread to whet desire, that fragile flame
that eats away all words, the aftertaste mango and lime.
(Poem originally published in The MacGuffin, Winter 2010.)
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: I write most of my poetry at a simple wooden table in my bedroom. It faces a window that looks out into a forested area where deer and turkeys wander. In the summer I can watch a not very exotic garden grow and in the winter I watch the snow transform the landscape until crows and hawks become the most common visitors as the sky turns a silver gray and the branches grow weighted with whiteness.
Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?
A: I have loved poetry for so long that it is hard to remember the first poem that overwhelmed me. Among the poems that have made an indelible mark is Ernest Dowson’s late-nineteenth-century decadent poem “Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae,” whose most famous line is: “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.” This poem is of a piece with the sinuous and sinister drawings of Aubrey Beardsley and encapsulates the ennui and despair so much displayed in the poetry and art of this period. I loved the poem when I first met it and continue to admire the longing and despondency of it.
Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?
A: In the fall of the year I came under the spell of Michelangelo’s “Rondanini Pieta” in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, Italy. The sun was setting as my husband and I stood entranced, the only visitors to this fairly abstract Pieta at that time of day. It was silent and sacred in the space filled by the Mother and the Son who has only recently been removed from the cross and placed in the Madonna’s arms. Michelangelo, who lived to be nearly 90 years old, had not completed this Pieta so a great sense of a work that is still in progress remains. It is as if the stone longs for the sculptor’s tools to return. It was the purest kind of gift to stand in the presence of such a work of art and it was a stunning reminder of the power of incomparable art.
Helen Marie Casey won the 14th National Poet Hunt sponsored by The MacGuffin and judged by Thomas Lynch. Her chapbooks include Fragrance Upon His Lips and Inconsiderate Madness, winner of the 2005 Black River Chapbook competition (Black Lawrence Press). Her newest book, a biography — My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer – is due out from Black Lawrence in June of 2011.