CINQUAIN FOR MOUNT MARCY
Tear in the clouds–
A sadness too lofty
All such wandering souls converge
Mary Sanders Shartle
My verse, “Cinquain for Mt. Marcy,” now happily appears in front of the post office in Saranac Lake, visible only when it rains (Adirondack Center for Writing, “Raining Poetry Project”). This is appropriate since the verse is based on the body of water called Tear of the Clouds, the headwaters of the Hudson River on the slopes of Mount Marcy, the highest of the High Peaks. The shallow little lake was named by Verplank Colvin who surveyed the Adirondacks in the late 1800s and began New York’s movement to preserve these precious Adirondack lands and waters now known as the Adirondack State Park. “Tear” in Tear of the Clouds could be pronounced like a tear of sadness or mourning, or “tear” as a rip in fabric. I had heard one from Adirondackers and the other from non-Adirondackers, so I added the two-syllable lines: “mourning” and “rending” to begin and end the verse accommodating those who know the vulnerability and importance of the High Peaks terrain and those visitors who may not.
The cinquain (cinq for “five”) usually unrhymed lines of two syllables, four, six, eight and returning again to two syllables respectively is analogous to the Japanese tanka and haiku. The cinquain is a uniquely local form used by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), who spent the last year of her life in Saranac Lake. She used the cinquain form as a powerfully concise expression as, at age thirty-four, she faced the enormity of her impending death from tuberculosis. In its time TB, like COVID 19, was the most contagious deadly disease known to humans.
Here’s one of Adelaide’s cinquains possibly written when, seeking a cure here, she suffered through three painful pneumothoracic treatments to collapse one of her lungs:
LANGOUR AFTER PAIN – by Adelaide Crapsey
And like cool balm,
An opiate weariness
Settles on eye-lids, on relaxed
I dedicate my poem “Cinquain for Mt. Marcy” as a memorial to Adelaide Crapsey. It was science that produced the penicillin that ultimately cured TB (too late to save her). The sanatorium closed, leaving only the clean, balsam-scented air that was part of the healing that patients like Adelaide sought. It will be science that figures out how to cure this present pandemic.
“Cinquain for Mt. Marcy” first appeared in a book of poems, Tear of the Clouds (Ra Press, 2010), by Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe and myself. We have collaborated on several books of poetry on shared themes of life in the Adirondacks in three unique voices. Individually and together, the Three Poets have won multiple awards from the Adirondack Center for Writing.
I want to thank Nathalie Thill and Baylee Annis for the wonderful idea of the “Raining Poetry Project.” I praise and urge continued support for art in public places. Poets, writers and artists have always found solace and peace here. The arts are part of the fabric and history of this region. ACW is a vital part of this community and has long had my support. I urge everyone who reads this and these sidewalk poems to do the same.
If you want to know more about Adelaide Crapsey, and other women writers of the Adirondacks, I recommend Kate H. Winter’s book, The Woman in the Mountain (SUNY Press, 1989), And I bet the Saranac Lake Library has a book called Verses by Adelaide Crapsey in its archives. When you go there, in the rain, look for yet another poem in the series! Hanif Abdurraqib’s “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This?” It’s amazing how timely all of these “Raining Poetry” poems are. Enjoy and ponder!
Be well! Mary