Jongleur - Lee Sharkey

I crouch in a glass bottle sensing the wall

surrounds me     My breath and the wall touch

irregularities shaping the air that presses

against my skin     I concentrate     Biotic

templates appear before me like paperwhite

lanterns     I flex and braid them repeating

the pattern so my hand knows to form it

I juggle them constellating a colony

filling the bottle     A few escape through its neck

others drift downward     Cupping two of them

I murmur moi, toi breathing on them

out of my twin lungs Castor and Pollux

A flurry of them dive through the liquid glass




The first thing to say about “Jongleur” is that it began as a lucid dream. It’s probably fair to describe the poem as a continuation of the dream and at the same time a depiction of lucid dreaming. When I reread it, it summons the visual and visceral sensations of the dream itself. More than two years later, maybe I’m still inside the dream.

 The poem remains mysterious to me, but the speaker is clearly engaged in an act of creation—a god in a bottle manipulating biological building blocks to create new beings—children if you will—that set off on their own life adventures. It’s a bit like juggling bubbles . . . a lot like writing a poem. If “Jongleur” is an ars poetica, it’s one that gives pride of place to somatic intelligence (“my hand knows to form it”) rather than cerebration.

The first draft wrote itself of a morning in fourteen-syllable lines. I find myself writing in syllabics when a story wants to spill out without punctuation, the way five year olds spill out every detail of the movie they’ve just seen without pausing to breathe. After many cycles of revision, which corresponded with the evolution of my sense of what “Jongleur” is getting at, the poem wound up measured in feet (four per line) rather than syllables, but I think it still has something of the feel of a syllabic poem. Castor and Pollux, Leda’s twin sons, one mortal and the other immortal, entered in a revision and made themselves at home—for the poet belongs to, longs for, both realms, yes?




Lee Sharkey is the author of Calendars of Fire (forthcoming, Tupelo Press) and A Darker, Sweeter String (Off the Grid Press). Her poems have appeared in Ancora Imparo, Crazyhorse, Drunken Boat, Field, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, The Seattle Review, and frequently in The Pinch. She was the Maine Arts Commission’s 2010 Fellow in the Literary Arts and is the co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal.