Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Until the End of Heaven: A Cento

Until the End of Heaven: A Cento

Before the oceans unfolded from the skies,
still hot so breath takes breath away,
making us gasp and point,
they've signed away the lives of their families.

Does it make you feel better?
I have no illusion.
Sometimes a voice survives.
Where the middle-aged are forced off with their bags,

there are things which must be accounted for.
But this thought, this thought, is not any thought:
At morning there are flowers to cut the heart
promised to another—

Something it takes the dreamer a long time to notice.
And for the thought that one might suffer greatly,
we hadn't burnished our stones with a ram's horn
until the end of heaven.

The title of this cento comes from Adonis's poem "Remembering the First Century" in The Pages of Day and Night.

The sources of the lines are as follows:

1 Jean-Paul Pecqueur's "The Void" in The Imaginations: A Poetry Chapbook
2 Jake Adam York's "At Money" in A Murmuration of Starlings
3 Barbara Crooker's "Looking for the Comet Halley" from Looking for the Comet Halley in Selected Poems
4 Jeannine Hall Gailey's "They Do Not Need Rescue" in The Robot Scientist's Daughter

5 Jillian Weise's "Poem for His Ex" in The Book of Goodbyes
6 Christian Wiman's "My Stop Is Grand" in Once in the West
7 Kelly Cherry's "A Voice Survives" in The Life and Death of Poetry
8 Donna Vorreyer's "The Leaving Behind" in a house of many windows

9   Natasha Trethewey's "Native Guard" in Native Guard
10 Vijay Seshadri's "Personal Essay" in 3 Sections
11  Ezra Pound's "Poem by the Bridge at Ten-Shin" in Selected Poems of Ezra Pound 
12  Louise Gluck's "The Burning Heart in Vita Nova

13  Jane Hirshfield's "Building and Earthquake" in Come Thief
14  Taha Muhammad Ali's "Twigs" in So What
15  Mahmoud Darwish's "The Hoopoe" in If I Were Another
16  Adonis's "Remembering the First Century" in The Pages of Day and Night

Punctuation and capitalization are mostly my own.


Peggy Rosenthal said...

What a delightful challenge you set for yourself here. I picture you collecting boxes and boxes of cut-out lines from poems you read. Then, to compose a cento, you empty the boxes onto the floor and start selecting lines to lay next to each other. When two lines seem to speak to each other, you set them apart and then look for other lines that will continue the conversation. (This is my fantasy; you probably have a totally different method!)

Maureen said...


I do have a different way (mostly, just opening one of my many volumes of poetry and selecting a line) but I like your method, because it would make for such a fun poetry exercise, especially in group poetry writing.