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The Griffin

by Joanne Diaz

  • For George Herbert, the rational and the emotional
  • were not separate spheres. Thinking meant feeling;
  • a sermon on the complexities of predestination
  • was as exciting as a country girl sitting in the front pew.
  • I learned this lesson best fourteen years ago
  • from a tutor in England who met with me each Tuesday.
  • Her last name was Griffin, which was, I thought,
  • the most interesting thing about her. I’d imagine her
  • with a beak and talons, lion’s claws and tail,
  • screeching through the streets of Oxford
  • in her search for a good kidney pie.
  • But our meetings were dismal for both of us:
  • I thought rhymed poetry was a yawn
  • and she kept squinting toward the tiny desk clock
  • for the minute she could be alone again. One afternoon,
  • after several like this, she must have decided
  • that reading aloud could help. She cleared her throat,
  • adjusted her giant glasses, opened to “The Collar,”
  • and read. With her Cornish lilt, she lingered
  • over Shall I ever sigh and pine? as if it were
  • her own question, and by the time she got to
  • Is the year only lost to me? she seemed to have forgotten
  • Herbert, and me, altogether. I saw a struggle in her,
  • heard a tightening in her throat, then a weeping
  • after she uttered the final words, and then
  • she nearly left the prison of her body, her tears
  • revealing that she really was part lion, part eagle.
  • Recently, a friend told me that writing a poem
  • about reading is a fool’s errand, worse than taking
  • a snapshot of a photograph. But how often
  • have I read Herbert’s poem in the years since,
  • only to hear the unexplained weeping, and the choler
  • that bound the griffin, even as she flexed her wings.


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