C.J. Sage’s “A Great Divide” is an appropriate poem to look at tonight in Boston, with Irene bearing down on us—and one I quite like, mostly for its thoughtfulness.
Sage’s titling is smart: the words, separate from their conglomerate ‘terming’ (the division of watersheds heading west to the Pacific and those linking up with rivers in the east towards the Atlantic, in part) pencil a large area for the poem’s borders; and, obviously, the patina of the Rockies’ spine lingers. Interesting, then, to meet with ‘this beachfront home’ straightaway, and its highly tactile (‘wriggle,’ ‘crack’) handling. And, though it does so quite quietly, the opening line alludes to an antecedent event that places the poem’s unfolding in a likewise ‘great’ comparative context: there’s clear litotes in ‘and just as easily,’ so the reader can only assume she is in the midst of weighing significant affairs.
Sage repays our good faith with a moment like ‘crossing that great waist of the world,/will the hurling comfort?’ Not only has the transport been significant between two stanzas (Cape Cod to the equator, potentially), but I’ve got an idea to chew on: one wonders, indeed, if the hurling will comfort. And I’m impressed by the humility and reach of ‘I was never unafraid,//even at sun-up,’ which reads like the keel on which the mass of this ship pivots. There’s a great satisfaction to the speaker posing a boatswain’s attitude in ‘Battened down, it turns out/the hatches were only plywood,’ too, especially on the heels of these previous lines: conceived fear of night and the waking are deepened by the found-out flimsiness of her bulwarks.
With the exception of the fifth stanza, which seems to me a rather indelicate summary of the already-successful content of the preceding two stanzas, the poem concludes with the breadth it laid claim to from line one. Even the picture of this species ‘perch[ed] atop a pedestal’ recovers the colloquial it flirts with. The queerness of ‘mouthy winters’ and ‘water foaming at the lips’ are in harmony with the scene Sage has unfolded; though the conclusion risks ‘preciousness,’ one is left with much, much more than pathos when he reaches ‘Some are spun around//and never come up again.’