Penumbra

Betty Adcock Click to read more...

adcockBetty Adcock was born in Texas in 1938 and lives in Raleigh, N.C.. She has taught at several colleges, including Meredith and Warren Wilson. She has received numerous grants and fellowships, including a Guggenheim, and she received the Poets’ Prize in 2003. The most recent of her six collections from LSU is Slantwise (2008), and her poem “Penumbra,” which appeared in Shenandoah 49/2, received one of her two Pushcart Prizes.

The child in the cracked photograph sits still
in the rope swing hung from a live oak.
Her velvet dress brims with a lace frill.

Her pet bantam is quiet in her lap.
It is the autumn day of a funeral
and someone has thought to take a snap-

shot of the child who won’t be allowed
to go to the burying – the coffin in the house
for days, strange people going in and out.

She’s dressed as if she’d go, in the blue church-
dress from last Christmas, almost too short.
The rooster loves her. She guards his perch

on her lap, his colors feathering the mild air.
She concentrates on this, now that her father
is unknowable, crying in the rocking chair.

Her mouth knife-thin, her small hands knotted hard
on the ropes she grips as if to be rescued,
she is growing a will that won’t be shed.

And something as cold as winter’s breath
tightens in her, as later the asthma’s vise
will tighten – hands on the throat, the truth.

Black and white, she is hiding
in every one of my bright beginnings.
Gold and deep blue and dark-shining

red the cockerel’s feathers, gold the sun
in that skyblue southern fall, blue
over the four-o’clocks and the drone

of weeping draining like a shadow from the house
where someone is gone, is gone, is gone –
where the child will stay to darken like a bruise.

I am six years old, buried
in the colorless album.
My mother is dead.

I  forgive no one.

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Discussion

2 Responses to Penumbra

  1. Bramlett Sam says:

    The themes in this poem of innocence disrupted by death are potent when juxtaposed with how the child was not supposed to see the burial. To me, it almost depicts the loss of innocence as inevitable.

  2. I always enjoy Betty Addock’s poems, and, not surprisingly, Penumbra is excellent. Though not directly, but tangentially, Penumbra reminds me of John Crowe Ransom’s “Janet Waking.” Both poems are devastating and beautiful.

    Janet Waking

    Beautifully Janet slept
    Till it was deeply morning. She woke then
    And thought about her dainty-feathered hen,
    To see how it had kept.

    One kiss she gave her mother,
    Only a small one gave she to her daddy
    Who would have kissed each curl of his shining baby;
    No kiss at all for her brother.

    “Old Chucky, Old Chucky!” she cried,
    Running across the world upon the grass
    To Chucky’s house, and listening. But alas,
    Her Chucky had died.

    It was a transmogrifying bee
    Came droning down on Chucky’s old bald head
    And sat and put the poison. It scarcely bled,
    But how exceedingly

    And purply did the knot
    Swell with the venom and communicate
    Its rigour! Now the poor comb stood up straight
    But Chucky did not.

    So there was Janet
    Kneeling on the wet grass, crying her brown hen
    (Translated far beyond the daughters of men)
    To rise and walk upon it.

    And weeping fast as she had breath
    Janet implored us, “Wake her from her sleep!”
    And would not be instructed in how deep
    Was the forgetful kingdom of death.

    John Crowe Ransom

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