I first read “Near Burning” around 1997 when my in-laws gave me an anthology of contemporary poetry. The imagery and language provoked a strong emotional and spiritual reaction. For almost a decade I returned to the poem as a vehicle for contemplation. In 2005, I felt musically able to respond to the emotions and ideas I heard in Kathleen’s poem. Using recorded sound, I created an aural landscape of the emotional trajectory of the poem. Sounds include various burning noises, nature sounds, and Beethoven’s Mass in C Major.
“Near Burning” by Kathleen Peirce
My sister singing the Kyrie
from Beethoven’s Mass in C Major
at Saint Clement’s in Chicago, on tape,
through headphones, in Iowa, in bed, dark,
my pillow, the room suddenly perceptibly cooler, those tears crawling sideways down exactly
to mark where her voice passes in.
Pulling the steaming teacup
easily from the end table,
lightly, so easily through
the space above my baby in my lap, toward my mouth
Those Yellowstone fires making Iowa hazy. Dusk. Mercy. That sound the jay made leaving the empty feeder.
“Near Burning” from Mercy, by Kathleen Peirce, © 1991. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.