Poem: The Jewels with Which to Make Do, the Jewels That There Were

From our poet of the month, Rose McLarney


"Because it means you see what beauty is / here, and what she ought to have: / jewels in a complete set,"

The Jewels with Which to Make Do, the Jewels That There Were

The woman is wearing, with such style
and intention, only one earring—

she makes the half lost
exquisite. Praise her.

As we praise parks, what’s left of wilderness,
and the literature of the diaspora.

Give her the unmatched remainders
of our pairs—one stud, one star, one single hoop,

an actual diamond, antique,
much iridescence, incomplete.

Compliment her further by recalling
that the forest was finest in its first growth—

high canopies hung with the lobes
of a multiplicity of leaves,

chestnuts set in the prongs of pods,
and below, made of birch bark’s silver

and mud, a few homes
built where their inhabitants belonged.

Because it means you see what beauty is
here, and what she ought to have:

jewels in a complete set,
presented in a box that opens

to its landscape of velvet, opulent
threads not yet asked to rise back

from the crush of any touch.

(for Tarfia)

Rose McLarney shared her insight with Spirituality & Health:

On a day when I had been thinking about issues such as how native populations have been displaced and ecosystems disrupted, I paused to notice how striking a friend of mine was wearing one earring, and it was uplifting. Losing one earring and wondering what to do with the other half of the pair is a common problem which could be dismissed as a woman’s triviality. 

But, to me, to keep wearing the single remainder after a loss seems like a demonstration of significant values that motivate salvaging and preserving, and so I wrote about it in this poem. (While drafting, I also pictured a small Christmas tree that another woman I know once decorated with her  orphaned or widowed earrings—an additional image of resourcefulness. This didn’t make it into the final poem, but her influence is surely present in the image of the forest, which came, during the revision process, to be of birch trees.)

I’ve noted before that my poems are often phrased as wishes, or so the reader can hear the speaker willing herself to believe some positive assertion. But, while finding the silver lining (or bark above the mud, or jewelry in the gutter) can be a good way to practice gratitude, I am wary of focusing on only what is pleasant at the expense of acknowledging and trying to challenge problematic realities. 

Small town parks have qualities to be admired, but that does not mean I should not fight for the preservation of greater wilderness. Women may survive oppression, but that does not mean they should be expected to experience it.      

Those statements I just made are obvious and clunky, and I love the subtlety of poetry. That said, there are occasions for all kinds of approaches. I phrase the last five lines of this poem, which are actually about the past, in a way that is likely to be read as present-tense to suggest action, and perhaps lead to something more concrete.

Read Rose McLarney's poem "American Persimmon."

From Forage by Rose McLarney, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. © 2019 by Rose McLarney.