Melissa Green

Melissa Green is a poet’s poet, quietly garnering the respect of such distinguished voices as Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky, whom she translated for a recent collection of nativity poems. Green’s work has appeared in Yale Review, Agni, Paris Review, and The New York Review of Books. Her celebrated first volume, The Squanicook Eclogues, four long poems that weave memory and landscape with an almost religious understanding of the passage of time, received the Norma Farber Award from the Poetry Society of America 1989 and the Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Derek Walcott wrote of The Squanicook Ecologues, “Responsibility and delight are the tone of the true poet, a joy in the craft that supercedes its themes however afflicted, and on every page of this book Melissa Green’s reverential elations uplift and soothe the reader as naturally and cleanly as the morning wind.

Hailed by Amy Clampitt as “a born, a natural poet,” Green is also the author of the harrowing and exquisite Color is the Suffering of Light: A Memoir. She lives in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

[Note: the poet was unable to come due to illness]

Excerpt of The Squanicook Eclogues (August, part iv)

August
iv

We walked the property a thousand times, as if
Without our walking there, the landscape might dissolve.
His trees were young. A drought-summer spark had cleared
The western third some time ago, and when he could,
He meant to have that forest back. He planted spruce
The size of children’s pencils, fifteen hundred sprays
Of evergreen, each year as spindly as the last.
It hurt to watch him tearing up the ones he’d lost.
We carried water from the brook sometimes. It sluiced
A dozen clotted paths, where once an ancestor sliced
The forest open, and oxen, yoked, had dragged a road.
This was ours. New Hampshire, north of us, was broad
And diffident as France. With vague disdain, at six,
I knew our woods were better-even my burdocked socks
Belonged to Massachusetts. And I loved our field
Whose hundred-year-old hair had not been cut; it filled
With captivated birds. A thorny orchard kept
A dozen wizards prisoner. I watched their script
Of runes engrave the granite sky with ancient debt.
Everything the woods could teach, my father taught:
Delight, exactitude, a faith, his journeyman’s doubt.

From THE SQUANICOOK ECLOGUES (W.W. Norton & Co., 1987)

Excerpt of The Squanicook Eclogues (October, part ii)

October
ii

More than novelty crooked its finger-silent, austere,
Deeper than trees beating their wings or the purblind stare
Of a black snake circumscribing a sapling’s wrist.
Father carefully penciled facts, describing rust,
Habitat, genus, disease, but his meticulous chart
Of change didn’t teach me to name the woods’ mysterious heart.
Father, I’m frightened. Why are things so beautiful and sad?
My voice had dusted moss, like snow, without a sound.
Stern and tall, he cupped his chin. As if in pain
He paused, then reached into his pocket for a pen.
Don’t ever make things up. Write only what you see.
Name the woods and you’ll have named the world, he said.
He tore some pages off and handed me his pad.
I heard the current crimp, mimetic, on the pond,
And larch or beech or birds murmuring over me. The task
Was how to write birch when I saw the crumbling, pale tusk
Of a fallen mastodon bridging the path, or ash, when the air
Was frenzied with the head of a neighbor’s rain-black mare.
Sycamore waved at me like drowned Ophelia’s hair.

From THE SQUANICOOK ECLOGUES (W.W. Norton & Co., 1987)

Daphne in Mourning

Palm fronds have woven out the sky.
Fog has infiltrated every vein.
My hair has interlaced with vines.
Cobwebs lash their gauze across my eyes.

I’ve stood so since the world began,
and turned almost to stone some years ago.
Who passes by perceives a lichened post,
my girlish figures, ghostly, nearly gone.

My bark is warmer than the dead’s.
Human blood still lulls the underside of leaves.
My fingers hold the very dress I loved
to dance in, when dancing mattered-and it did.

from DAPHNE IN MOURNING (Pen & Anvil Press, 2010)