Nicole Sealey on “Heretofore Unuttered”
As if god, despite his compulsions, were decent
and hadn't the tendency to throw off
all appearance of decorum, here I am
admiring this single violet orchid.
How lucky am I to go unnoticed
or so I imagine, when, at this writing,
there is a red-tailed hawk, somewhere,
tracking the soft shrills of newborn songbirds—?
Poem originally appeared in No Tokens. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
I'd had the first two or so lines of "Heretofore Unutterred," from as if god to appearance of decorum, for several years before they finally made their way into a poem, this poem. Here I am / admiring this single violet orchid came to me days after a trip to Home Depot for flowers. My husband and I bought marigolds, beardtongues, and lavender for our yard. For myself, I bought a single violet orchid, which I placed on my writing desk.
I often think about what has to happen (not only in one's imagination but also in one's life) for a poem to live. In the case of "Heretofore Unuttered," the orchid had to be bought then stared at for hours, as it is not just a fixture in the poem but also the triggering image needed to activate those once dormant opening lines. The four lines that follow the orchid, I'm convinced, come from my obsession with poets Matthew Olzmann and Li-Young Lee, specifically their poems "The Days" and "One Heart," respectively, and a fact I'd scribbled in a notebook: birds of prey track newborn birds via the sounds of their cries.
O, and the title itself… I might've come across the phrase "heretofore unuttered" from television or in a book or at a talk—I'm not sure. I remember being immediately struck by its sound and the weight of it. All that to say, there were a number of events that conspired in the making of this poem. The ones noted above are those I think I know. I wonder what more led to the poem. I wonder what leads to anything, everything.
Nicole Sealey contributed this piece in conjunction with LA BENDICIÓN: A ONE-DAY CELEBRATION OF LATINX-CARIBBEAN POETRY IN THE UNITED STATES at New York University on February 8th, 2018.
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