There’s a place in Hebrews (quoting from the Psalms) that reads,
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Heb. 1:10-12)
I’ve always been captivated by that image: God folding up the heavens, rolling them up like a garment.
Several years ago I tried to write a poem exploring that image, but it didn’t work. I made better progress in my senior year of college, when I participated in a wonderful poetry workshop led by Kjerstin Kauffman. In that class I wrote the first draft of the poem I’m sharing today and called it “The Folding of the Sky.” Kjerstin Kauffman was an incredibly kind, discerning mentor and helped me see some of the poem’s strengths and weaknesses. Actually, quick story to give a little background for the poem and to show just how knowledgeable and insightful Kjerstin is:
She read my first draft, gave me some feedback, and then volunteered, “You know, Rachelle, I’m guessing you love Robert Frost. I can see the influence of his poetry in your work. This piece in particular makes me think of his poem ‘Home Burial.'”
I stared at her for a moment in astonishment. “‘Home Burial’?” I said. “Just a couple weeks ago I studied that poem in another class, and since then I’ve been writing an essay analyzing it in depth.”
I hadn’t had a clue I was drawing ideas from “Home Burial” when I wrote my poem, and Kjerstin had no way of knowing I’d been studying Robert Frost. She was just that good; she recognized what I didn’t.
Anyway, long story short, I made some revisions to the poem based on Kjerstin’s feedback, but I never felt like I’d done quite enough to it. But last Sunday night in Bible study, we looked at quotations from the Psalms used in the New Testament, and we spent a lot of time in Hebrews. And yes, we looked at those verses about the Lord folding up the heavens. I thought of the poem I’d never quite revised to my satisfaction. So I pulled it out, I dusted it off, and I made some improvements.
I feel like I’m never “done” with a poem, but this one is probably close. It’s certainly much better than before. If you’re familiar with Robert Frost’s poetry, you might notice some similarities of style. As are many of his poems, this piece (now titled “Light Years”) is written in blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Now I’ll let the poem speak for itself.
She sat unmoving, looking at the light—
the loosened seams of sunset fraying through
her windowpane—with Esther’s favorite dress
upon her lap. The cloth, once blue as noon,
had whitened under summer rays and lost
three of its buttons, spaces now, new moons.
Esther had wished to keep the dress forever,
but her mother knew its proper time was up.
Now time to sew a new frock from new cloth.
And yet the fabric hung across her knees,
her fingers touched the bodice, and she traced
its zodiac of stains and snags, as though
she couldn’t quite fulfill her own intent
to throw away the thing her child had been
a child in. And she looked westward again—
the golden-hemmed horizon—and she thought
that as a vesture you shall fold them up,
and she could see the folding of the sky,
each orbit flattened, constellations creased,
those lightyear lengths wrapped tight and stored away.
She smoothed her daughter’s dress and crossed the sleeves
and rolled it up into a full-moon spool,
then left the room and moved upstairs to find
her cedar chest, and halfway there she paused
and tucked aside the eastern window drapes,
checking to see the sky still pinned in place.
© Rachelle Ferguson, 2020