Memoir

(Chicory Blue Press, 1988)

As if excavating her life, Honor Moore has uncovered with care the artifacts of the heart, and with deep intelligence explored the fissures in common speech and the shiftings of consciousness beneath them. At memory’s insistence she has written this book, which opens with one of the most important poetic meditations on nuclear war to have been published during the past decade and concludes with an intimate, almost epistolary poem about a friend who died of AIDS. We are thus in the presence of a poet who can be praised not only for the eloquence and musicality of her voice, but also for the courage of her moral engagement. It is not only beautiful work, it is brave.
— Carolyn Forché

 

 

Reviews/Press etc.

From The Village Voice, March 1989

 

MEMOIR

By Honor Moore

Chicory Blue Press, 1988: Honor-Moore’s poems speak of a strong faith in hard work and in the land of working alone. Her poems mark out both the experiences she describes and, as in “Letter in Late July,” the experience of making a book of poems (even the experience of being photographed for the book’s jacket):

a key reconciles

green words on a black screen. But
nothing merges
painlessly enough with memory. I could
cook a lambchop or murder
mosquitoes.

Though she has been widely published and anthologized (I can’t get enough of “My Mother’s Mustache”), Memoir is Moore’s long-awaited first collection. Waiting itself becomes a force in the book, transforming incidents into self-knowledge, and that knowledge into tradition. Take “Dream,” written, the inscription tells us, after a lecture delivered on Emily Dickinson by Adrienne Rich (to whom Moore owes a great deal).

I move closer, see your face
focus, dissolve to your

mother’s face: her face, your face,
hers, yours, hers, until you merge,

say to me, I will not go away.

Most of the poems in Memoir are in traditional forms—sapphics, sestinas, and a hendecasyllabic arrangement that looks like a recurring hourglass. And since forms, like contracts, best frame certain styles of discourse—hendecasyllabics hold the long narratives, sapphics lend a unifying music to shorter ones—the service Moore performs by concentrating so much on the stubborn sestina is that she’s coaxed pleasure from this recalcitrant form. In only one have content and architecture slipped out of their best fit. In “Cleis,” an attractive woman cruising a pair of lovers from a jeep becomes, in the poet’s imagination, Sappho’s daughter Cleis. Had this poem been constructed in the sapphic “mother lyric” instead of the sestina, it might have been even more effective.

In her other six sestinas, ranging from a birthday letter to a narration of a young girl’s sexual molestation, the insistence of the terminal endings mirrors Moore’s layering consciousness. She makes use of, believe it or not, the form’s playfulness in a way altogether ignored by many other contemporary writers. One can be more than halfway through “A Green Place,” for example, before realizing that necessity as well as invention is dictating the repetition of words.

“What’s beyond making love?” A true
question.
“Time,” I quip, knowing my imagining
seeks an answer to soothe fear from
your face. If
we could freeze the instant in sex when
light
shudders and we let time go, the clear
light of morning which turns lush green

silvery. Beyond making love? Green
if it’s a place. Here any question
leads to an answer if put clearly…

Moore has a special place in the community of poets and writers not only for her craftsmanship, but also for the scope of her attentions—both public and private domains. Her vision of family and friends renders them microcosmic embodiments of a larger world. On public issues, as in the two poems that frame the book like a pair of broad shoulders—a long poem, “Spuyten Duyvil,” about nuclear holocaust, and an elegy to a friend dead of AIDS—Moore is intensely personal.

“Sober you can
do anything, “you told Joan. Jimmy
said
your last days the virus at your brain
had you
in summer at the door on Fire Island
offering refreshments as guests arrived,
beautiful men, one after another.

Moore has also been willing to write of intimate relationships with both men and women, making her one of a very few poets whose work flows transsexually, so to speak. She advocates love in the context of public courage, as in “Spuyten Duyvil”:

I am not afraid to begin to love or
to keep loving. Even in this fire,
it is not fear I feel but heartbreak.

—Robyn Selman

 

 

Includes the following poems by Honor Moore:

 

Spuyten Duyvil 
Cut Outs
Portrait of Manet’s Wife
In Mrs. N’s Palace
Poem for the Beginning
Hotel Breakfast
Premonition
Poem for the End
Cleis
Birthday
Shenandoah
Letter in Late July
A Green Place
Dream
Legacies
Sitting for Inge Morath
In the Circus, 1905
To Janet, On Galileo
First Time: 1950
Ruth
Younger Brother
Poem in Four Movements for my Sister Marian
My Mother’s Moustache
Placemats
Memoir
Notes

 

 

Excerpts

Copyright by the author, all rights reserved.

Legacies

White envelope addressed to your mother in red ink — your
hand; my journal reread after five years: I hope
she doesn‘t die; a Wanda Landowska
record pulled from a dusty shelf—I play her
playing as you did, Bach over and over, when I was
a child; young composer, jazz singer mother ten years
dead, stands with me in a cellar, smokes,
waits for laundry: “Just before she died,” he says, “my mother
said, if you become a musician, I want you to
stand someday on a stage, sing this.” He turns
his back, sings, When there are gray clouds, I don’t mind
the gray clouds, I’m all for you sonny bay, all for you
. Mom,
I miss you and he tells me it doesn’t go away.
Mom, last winter in this room I cried
in a man’s arms, my willingness to love stretching to
reach someone alive: It was as if I could see my
heart below me, dark, a mountain range watched
from a cruising jet. I was crying and I saw death
move out of me, swiftly, like the massed shadows of clouds,
black, seen from the sky on a clear day, recede, leaving
just sunlight. Mom: your music, her hands, the
keys moving, live, forceful, speaking — the harpsichord — prelude,
fugue, prelude — past death. Mom, after five years I believe
and can’t believe you died. Last night, the wind,
a window opening: “Mom,” I shout, half-joke,
“Mom!” remembering the strong strange wind in the huge maples
the night they called to say you’d gone into a coma.
Tomorrow you’re fifty-five. Mom, I’m
thirty-two, and the you that lives on in me sometimes
is not enough. Mom, I wear my hair pulled back with combs.
Mom, I keep my room neat, exercise. Mom,
I ride a horse once a week and keep seeing
you take Grandma’s bay mare through that course of jumps: Over and
over: I am a child, the horse throws you. In that dusk
I begin to learn what it might be
to lose you, but always you walk back, stride back, embarrassed,
glasses broken, wet from your fall in the evening
grass, no gray in your black hair. Mom, when I
visited your grave in the snow and could not
move from the hillside because in the cold I saw your mouth
pinken to its living color and smile at me, Mom,
was that real? I sit in this room,
orange curtains billowing in the light — flowers, basket,
star stitched through the Amish quilt — magenta, green, blue — your
colors, and the dead woman plays as if
alive, moving her long hands, making a deep
sinewy river of each delicate baroque line: Mom,
I am thirty-two. The you that lives on in me is
sometimes not enough. You died before
your mother. You can’t know what it is not to have one. There’s
snow on the ground here as there was in Massachusetts
the day they buried Grandma. Months after
you died, she told this dream: a place with snow, she
thinks Canada. You are dead but alive, and she rocks you,
rocks you, and you forgive her. Mom, does she rock you now
or do you rock her? At the funeral
the priest said, our sister enters the gates of paradise
in a company of angels. Mom, were you waiting?
I have no mother, your mother’s gone, and
the you that lives on, me, I must learn she is
enough. From this room I see snow. Snow. Tomorrow is your
birthday. This is for you. The snow is melting. I’ve built
a fire. Mom, the fingers of the dead
woman play as if in some paradise, paradise, and
your mouth pinkens to breathing red and smiles. I am here,
your daughter, wanting. When there are gray
clouds, I don’t mind the gray clouds. I’m all for you
. All from you

 

First Time : 1950

In the back bedroom, laughing when you pull
something fawn-colored from your black
tight pants, the unzipped chino slit.
I keep myself looking at the big belt
buckled right at my eyes, feel the hand
riffle my hair: You are called Mouse, baby-

sitter trusted Wednesdays with my baby
brother. With me. I still see you pull
that huge bunch of keys from a pocket, hand
them to my brother, hear squeaking out back —
Mrs. Fitz’s clothesline — as you unbelt,
turn me to you, my face to the open slit.

It’s your skin, this thing, head, its tiny slit
like the closed eye of a still-forming baby.
As you stroke, it stiffens like a new belt —
your face gets almost sick. I want to pull away,
but you grip my arm. I see by your black
eyes you won’t let go. With your left hand

you take my chin. With your other hand
you guide it, head reddening, into my slit,
my five-year-old mouth. In the tight black
quiet of my shut eyes, I hear my baby
brother shaking the keys. You lurch, pull
at my hair. I don’t breathe, feel buckle, belt,

pant. It tastes lemony, musty as a belt
after a day of sweat. Mouth hurts, my hands
push at your hips. I gag. You let me pull
free. I open my eyes, see the strange slits
yours are; you don’t look at me. “Babe, babee —”
You are moaning, almost crying. The black

makes your skin clam-white now, your jewel-black
eyes blacker. You buckle up the thick belt.
When you take back the keys, my baby
brother cries. You extend a shaking hand
you make kind. In daylight through a wide slit
an open shade leaves, I see her pull,

Mrs. Fitz pulling in her rusty, soot-black
line. Framed by a slit, her window, her large hands
flash, sort belts, dresses, shirts, baby clothes.