On Ryan Teitman’s “Ars Poetica”

from “Ars Poetica”

Excerpt from Ryan Teitman, Litany for the City

the moon begging its way
into the morning sky

like a child
pounding at the embassy gate,

or the breath
against a windowpane

fogging our view of the century oak,
its last leaves traded

for a hundred crows
littering the snow with black tail feathers

and small, clean bones.

Teitman stretches his images to a breaking point. The moon, shaped like an alms cup or a cupped palm, is not the golden, luminous sky-pearl of poetic lore but a beggar. It is the endangered child caught in yet another of the world’s geo-political mishaps: Refugee? Orphan? Lost waif? And as readers must see the moon, we must also see the child or how the child’s urgency reflects the historical moment. Teitman keeps pushing the imagery even further, making the moonlight like our condensation of breath in winter. The poet could suspend the Litany for the Cityimage, but instead expands it. The reader sees oak leaves replaced by crows: omen and loss and death. Teitman fills his images with transition: night into day, the child at risk before sanctuary, autumn into winter, life into death. The moon and the child are petitioners. The poem suggests that the unknown speaker is also a supplicant, perhaps trying with breath (words, language, the sensual) to obscure what nature does not hide: our coming death, the death of all.

“Ars Poetica,” from Ryan Teitman, Litany for the City. BOA Editions, 2012.