"Unfurlings" by Kathryn Stripling Byer

This poem by a mentor of mine is from her chapbook The Vishnu Bird (Jacar Press, 2015).

It's the last four lines that made me love this poem, the richness and delicious ambiguity of those double meanings. "Kindling" is dry twigs and discarded paper, but it's also potential energy, stuff that starts fires. To "let [something] fly" can mean giving it permission to literally ascend, but it can also mean to let go of an idea or ambition. But then again, to "let fly" could be to allow a furious burst of self-expression. And there's more kindling (potential) implied in the language of the final two lines: "you almost," "you could." We could even read it as implied permission from the poet, if we let the last two syllables of the last two lines ring out: you almost believe you could let fly. It's reader's choice: a lamentation about roads not taken, or an inventory of things that still could be. Or it's both—as these reflective moments in our lives so often are.

The format of this poem, its short lines and single run-on thought beginning with a verb command, is a departure from the slower-paced long lines of most of Byer's earlier work. As in so many of the poems that I love, the music here bolsters the message. This poem is like a dialogue between soft and hard sounds: the easy stretched-out "eh" of every / letter / breakfast / never / rest / itself / spread / left / whatever / let / tell and the gentle "ih" of denim / wrinkled / silly / lists / it / kindling / wings, compared to the sharp decisive vowel sounds of saved / dare / away / day / table / stained, piece / dream / here / believe, unroll / almost / outgrown / moment, tight / lie / grimy / aside / nightmare / wine / fly.

Two other significant choices are worth noting: the lack of hyphenation in most adjective phrases, including "wine splashed" and "cast aside wings," which seems to emphasize the verbs rather than the nouns; and the repeated words: every, you, the ______, here, life, Un- (the title "Unfurlings" and the first word "Unroll"), and—not to be overlooked in its simplicity and power—the frequent use of "and," which shifts to "or" in the last phrase.

Aside from the music that carries it, the power of this poem lies (for me) in the simplicity of its images, which is highlighted by word choice—all one or two syllables. The only three-syllable words in this poem: Unfurlings, recipe, unfoldings, whatever.