Kate Light’s volumes of poetry include Gravity’s Dream, Donald Justice Award), Open Slowly, and The Laws of Falling Bodies (Nicholas Roerich Prize). Kate’s poetry has also appeared in The Paris Review, Hudson Review, Washington Post Book World, Feminist Studies, Carolina Quarterly, The Formalist, The Dark Horse, New York Sun, the anthologies Western Wind, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times (and on his program “The Writer’s Almanac”), and many other publications.
She is the librettist of The Life and Love of Joe Coogan (an opera based on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) and Einstein’s Mozart: Two Geniuses, featuring Mozart’s music; and her lyrics to the song “Here Beside Me” are heard in Disney’s Mulan II.
Kate Light has been visiting professor at Cornell University and at the Musashino Art University in Tokyo, and is also a professional violinist in New York City.
Please visit Kate Light’s website: www.katelight.com
16th Century Florence: Into a meeting of the Florentine
Camerata, vigilantes for the preservation of monody,
burst young Galileo Galilei. “Papa,” he said, “play
your liuto a moment; for I want to know if the speed of these
wooden balls, going down an incline, will increase
as they draw nearer the end of the slope.
See how I depend on your years of practice, hope
the rhythms you built into your tocca, strings, and brow
will support me in this launching of my theories now.
See, the incline that I built of mahogany and brass
markers–like even-spaced frets–will be the constant the balls pass
as they flow. Now you must turn your back to us,
so; then you can play without distraction, and let us
be your audience, watching, watching every fraction.
Play, Papa, play!”
And from Vincenzo’s passamezzo
spilled forth the laws of falling bodies, di Galileo.
V. Souvenir di Florence … David Continues On His Way
from Six Urban Love Songs
David, outside the Academia, makes an appearance
on t-shirts, alongside Adam touching God
’s hand. Down the block the pilgrims plod,
viewers of all ages, adherents
to all faiths, come to worship or to gape.
“He’s got a big one,” a schoolgirl cries
in the interior, sunlit, space;
nearby, the Slaves’ unfinished eyes…
Outside again, David “hung” on a postcard, sun-
glasses on the shaft: “Hi from Florence”
(it says). Wish you were here, love you, hon.
Fascination and abhorrence–
yet I cannot resist reporting. (If we ever break up,
love, I want the Stonehenge coffee cup…)
(Palma de Majorca, 1839)
Empty space and still life freeze me with dread,
and symmetry and meticulousness fill me with gloom;
and if I try to imagine eternal damnation, my hell
would be to live forever in a room
that is sparsely furnished and austerely tidy,
(unless it is occupied as a kind of tent);
for only one who is empty-headed and cold-hearted
could live without the living complement
of knick-knacks and bits and pieces, all signs of life–
a bird in a cage, or a vase of carnations–
where order rules supreme, nothing is worn out
or broken, and nowhere the perfume of sensations.
Perish all carpets in the world if I can have one
only on condition a child or cat will never play on it!
I cannot enter such a house without anger
and that is all I’ll say on it.
II. The Pig Ship
I have visited the island of Majorca thanks to the pig;
for, ever since three years ago permission was accorded
for their exportation via a small and beautiful rig
purchased in England, once a week to Barcelona
two hundred pigs–with a few passengers alongside–are transported.
It is quite touching to see the tenderness and care
with which these gentlemen (and I do not mean
the passengers) are treated. The captain has acquired,
by long association, a little of their impudent air
and a grunt in his voice rather like their own.
If a passenger complains of the noise they are making,
he replies it is the sound of waves of gold coins breaking.
If some lady complains of the foul odor which permeates
the ship, he tells her it is money ‘s scent re-entering the gates.
And a sea-sick passenger’s complaints are merely lost
among the needs of the pigs, who, when they are ill,
exhibit a tendency to surrender the will
to live which must be combated at all cost.
Needless to say,
once we made port, we longed to get away
from such strange society; but leave was not granted
for us to step into the light of day
till every last pig was landed.
Why do you travel, my dear friend, why do you do it?
“I travel in order to travel.” What is this need,
this costly, tiring, and sometimes dangerous pleasure,
often disappointing, to which we give way, on which we feed?
All of us, as soon as we have an opportunity,
travel; for the importance is not in
so much the travel, as in the getting away. Who among us
hasn’t some yoke to throw off or grief best forgotten?
I imagine the human race as living two sets
of lives, one characterized by studious meditation,
domestic bliss, philosophic contemplation,
the other involving, above all, ideas and artistic inspiration.
Travel combines duty (congenial intercourse, fresh
contacts) with pleasure–but the majority
of us travel in search of mystery, isolation, spurred
on by resentment of easygoing, “normal” society.
I set out to satisfy a desire for quiet and rest,
some remote noiseless retreat, where a day would have
twelve hours, there would be no need to remove my dressing-gown,
and where I could never be an unwanted visitor’s slave.
Who amongst us has not at some time dreamed
of forsaking his job, his relations, and even his friends
to go live without cares, responsibilities, and above all,
without newspapers, on some deserted island?
But when we flee from the bustle in search of peace
and oblivion among people who weave life’s thread
more slowly, we experience unforseen troubles and regret leaving
the present for the past, the living for the dead.
This quite simply is what the theme of my narrative will be.
“Though one of us was dangerously ill, we undertook to cross the sea …
Poetry in this post: © Kate Light
From: The Laws of Falling Bodies, Story Line Press, 1997
Published with the permission of Kate Light