Friday, May 17, 2019

#105 Backstory of the Poem "Promises Had Been Made" By Sarah Sarai

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*** The CRC Blog welcomes submissions from published and unpublished poets for BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series.  Contact CRC Blog via email at or personal Facebook messaging at

***This is #105 in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

#105 Backstory of the Poem
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

*Please note: I am more Transcendentalist than traditional half-Christian (who is half-Jewish). 

     My Christian mother was, or at least presented to her daughters as, disinterested in the traditional story of flesh and nails, but moved by a story of healing, love, caring for each other, peace, and a symbolic interpretation of resurrection. Something happened back then. Whatever it was, however, is less important than whatever ongoing solace or peace it offers. 
     Some friends avoid Medieval and Renaissance art because they don’t want to be “accosted” by Christian art’s strangeness. I get it, but I think it’s a misunderstanding. I don’t, by way of example, study a portrait by Rembrandt of some rich jerk I’ve never heard of because I admire the rich jerk, but because of the story, the revealing of shared humanity.

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  I was wandering the Met Museum (NYC) and paused at “The Entombment” (Moretto da Brescio; Italian; 1600s). 

     I was interested in the faces, each its own portrait, in the differences in expressions of grief, the contrast between the men and women. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus seemed almost stern, while Mary and Mary Magdelan’s faces revealed suffering, something both genders were feeling. I was moved by the depth the women revealed and, also, their ability to bend (which I see as emblematic of emotional flexibility), in contrast to the stiff posture of the men. 
     St John, resting on one knee, is more open than the other two men, but, hey, he’s a saint and fairly young. I sat on a bench opposite the painting in this large, grand gallery, grabbed a pad from my bag and began to try to capture, in poetry, what I saw—grief, love, dissimilarity. The women’s faces as openly revealing; the men trapped in an inability to express crushing grief. I could be projecting. I could be misunderstanding conventions of the time. Who knows, definitively, what is happening in any work of art. How great we can react, learn, build on our reactions, discuss them, forget them, relearn.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? Best I can figure out, I began writing the poem in 2015. While I sometimes print out drafts, I no longer save them once I’ve moved on to another draft. I always have one document on my laptop which contains all the poems I’m working on at any one time. So right now, I have a doc. in Word titled “PoemsSept-Dec2018” which has 42 pages of poems. It’s the only way I can organize. When enough of the poems have been accepted or retired, or, when I have enough new work I’m getting confused by the presence of older poems, I archive these documents in my “Old Drafts of Poems” file folder.     
          Because of the process of working and reworking on one document, typing over, deleting, my process is to simply work on what I have before me. Every so often I will consult a previous document of drafts, but most of the time, not.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? 
And can you share them with us?  Now, and before the contest, the poem ended with this stanza: 

In so-beautiful her arms, his so-body
      is a splay of too much beauty to be real.
If it is to be of any value,
      a story will be misunderstood.

     The final two lines aim at expressing my concept of religion, and of story (a religion unto itself) in general. Interpretations are ongoing, right, and wrong. The painting that inspired “Promises Had Been Made” depicts Europeans, not more authentic-to-the-story Semites or North Africans. For a start.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Varies. Today it is that grief never ends. I overheard a woman talking about the death, ten years ago, of her mother, talking with an intensity which, at first, annoyed me because: ten years. Get over it, already. But that’s how we grieve: whenever/however. I’d forgotten that I struggled for years and years with my father’s death; miss my mother although the struggle wasn’t as hard; c) kept searching out ways to grieve my sister’s death; and d) work on grief, with its resurgences. Love is a thing. Grief is a thing. Allow intensity into your life. Whatever it is that enlarges you – that’s a spirit.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The question presumes writing is emotional. It is a struggle. For sure. And that’s all I have to say about this.
Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? “Promises Had Been Made” was selected by Helen Losse, a poet and much respected editor, for Chris Cooper’s Personal Lord Jesus Christ Savior Contest.

Anything you would like to add? Thanks, Chris, for the opportunity to write about my poem and for this feature of your blog. Also, thanks to Trish Hopkinson (Left) (, whose listing of places to submit included Chris’ contest.
          And finally. Winning the Personal Lord Jesus Christ Savior Contest was an honor – I was surprised, happy, grateful. I loved the contest title which was a little out there – deliberately so, I thought. I understood it wasn’t speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention (which just apologized for their involvement in slavery). It wasn’t about or for homophobic evangelicals who bring their hate to far corners of the world or right-wingers who use the word “Christian” when they mean to use “racist” or “close-minded” or “haters of the poor and meek.” It wasn’t about the Knight Templars murdering Muslims and Jews, or the Popes who refused to okay birth control and thus are responsible for at least 20 MILLION deaths in Africa from AIDS. If anyone local (NYC) is curious, they can ask me, radical, leftie me, about my lifelong interest in, affection for religion. ###

Promises Had Been Made

      On “The Entombment” by Moretto de Besco

The women hide nothing.
She, captured in
a collaborative creator.

Her envelopment has no meaning
      to a dead man
      whose death won’t
      even end death.
Promises had been made.

Would that be me in her arms?
Not me here on
      a bench in the gallery’s center
      squaring off
with loneliness and imagination,
      both being among art’s disciples.

But some me – with a body
      almost human as his.
      I know much of everything
      but not enough.

An other Mary,
      head lowering to his arm –
      his conjuration of a once life
            – touching but for
the confident artist’s oils of
      celestial buoyancy.

The men are concerned in their way,
      eyes averted from mine.
      I’m no Mary.
Loyal middle-management, they deny
the present’s threat of pain,
      the present’s carry-through

He is translucent in her arms,
      an embodied splay of
      too much beauty to be real.

If it is to be of any value,
      a story will be misunderstood.

     Sarah Sarai was born in New York State, has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Seattle, and, since 1995, New York City. Geographies of Soul and Taffeta is available from Indolent Books. The Future Is Happy from BlazeVOX. Over twenty of her short stories have been published in literary journals. She is a freelance editor of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry and is available for hire, although please understand, this is how she pays her rent. If you want a freewill offering, seek elsewhere.

     You could like my Facebook page, The Future Is Happy: Fiction & Poetry of Sarah Sarai,” then leave a message. Also, I’m @farstargirl on Instagram. And a person could always leave a message on my blog, My3000LovingArms. Your message will be directed to me.


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

#096 April 16, 2019
“Strawberries Have Been Growing Here for Hundreds of
by Mary Ellen Lough

#097 April 17, 2019
“The New Science of Slippery Surfaces”
by Donna Spruijt-Metz

#098 April 19, 2019
“Tennessee Epithalamium”
by Alyse Knorr

#099 April 20, 2019
“Mermaid, 1969”
by Tameca L. Coleman

#100 April 21, 2019
“How Do You Know?”
by Stephanie

#101 April 23, 2019
“Rare Book and Reader”
by Ned Balbo

#102 April 26, 2019
by Jefferson Carter

#103 May 01, 2019
“The sight of a million angels”
by Jenneth Graser

#104 May 09, 2019
“How to tell my dog I’m dying”
by Richard Fox

#105 May 17, 2019
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

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