Supernatural Love

By Gjertrud Schnackenberg b. 1953 Gjertrud Schnackenberg
My father at the dictionary-stand   
Touches the page to fully understand   
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens,   
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word “Carnation.” Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,   
One finger on the miniature word,   
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,   
“The obligation due to every thing   
That’s smaller than the universe.” I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle’s eye,   
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room   
Shadowed and fathomed as this study’s gloom   
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb

To read what’s buried there, he bends to pore   
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,   
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch “Beloved” X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle’s point connects   
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read. My father puzzles why   
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as “Christ’s flowers,” knowing I

Can give no explanation but “Because.”   
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages   
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.   
He reads, “A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh.”   
As if the bud’s essential oils brush
Christ’s fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,   
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it’s me,

He turns the page to “Clove” and reads aloud:   
“The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud.”
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,   

He reads, “From French, for clou, meaning a nail.”
He gazes, motionless. “Meaning a nail.”   
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,   

I twist my threads like stems into a knot   
And smooth “Beloved,” but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone.   
I lift my hand, it is myself I’ve sewn,   
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,   

I lift my hand in startled agony   
And call upon his name, “Daddy daddy”—
My father’s hand touches the injury   

As lightly as he touched the page before,   
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore   
The flowers I called Christ’s when I was four.   

Gjertrud Schnackenberg, "Supernatural Love" from Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992. Copyright © 1982, 1985 by Gjertrud Schnackenberg.  Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com.   All rights reserved.  Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited.  The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1993)

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Poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg b. 1953

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Religion, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

Holidays Father's Day

 Gjertrud  Schnackenberg

Biography

Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in 1953 in Tacoma, Washington. She began writing poetry as a student at Mount Holyoke College and as an undergraduate earned a reputation as a poetic prodigy, twice winning the Glascock Award for Poetry. Her first two books of poetry, Portraits and Elegies (1982) and The Lamplit Answer (1985), established her as one of the strongest of the New Formalists and confirmed her early promise. Reviewing . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Religion, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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