“Interment” (Quatern)



I cannot bear to lay you in the ground–
not even in your ash state, shaped by urn;
it seems so cold below that clay-clung mound,
too harshly gelid to comfort harshest burn.

It’s true pooled ash leaves little to discern–
it cannot bare; it lays you into ground-
up bóne and góne and chár, while I still yearn
for spark–the live shine caught upon the round

of tooth, cheek, pupil–that in rebound
caught me. I want to know, but fear to learn
just why I cannot lay you in the ground
without my throat hard-bartered for a quern

that re-mills pain with every swallow’s turn,
that grínds what’s already fíne around
and round, allowing neither fruit nor fern–
that cannot bear to lay you in the ground.


Here’s a reading of the poem.  (I sometimes hate to take people’s time with readings, but in this case, the poem works much better read. I have changed one word since posting the reading, but it’s pretty minor.)

The above is a quatern – a new poetic form for me, that involves a repeating line.  I wrote it for Gay Cannon’s challenge on dVerse Poets Pub (“Form For All”).  I am afraid I used a slightly longer (pentameter) line than recommended for the form.  I urge you to check out Gay’s explanation of the form and the wonderful  poets at dVerse.

And – if you have a moment – check out my books!  Perfect for CHEAP Christmas presents!   Poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, orNose Dive. Nose Dive is available on Kindle for just 99 cents!

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43 Comments on ““Interment” (Quatern)”

  1. brian miller Says:

    hey form is made to be broken…that is my philosophy….it does read a bit different, but not in a bad way you know….and you work it well….my fav part…

    it lays you into ground-
    up bóne and góne and chár, while I still yearn
    for spark

    i think you grab the emotion in there…the repetition works well emotionally as well…its hard to let go…to give up someone to the ground…

  2. Karin this is exceptional (we’ve had many tonight with this form) and yours is so wonderfully done. I love this in iambic pent, the turning of the lines, the change in breaks, and not only the line length but the keeping to two rhymes makes it even more funereal, more of a lament. It is so touching, poignant, and so very beautiful!

  3. Pamela Says:

    A heartfelt lament to losing someone, your descriptions work well in this form, Karin. I am terrified of forms, and completely glaze over when talking about metres…


  4. this works so well k. – on a real funeral base but also as a metaphor for the things in life that died on us and we know we should let go but can’t.. well written

  5. Susan Says:

    WOW. Every line has its gems, rounding the dead one again as if from clay.

  6. Raajii Says:

    This is so beautiful, and touching!

  7. powerful piece Karin. Excellent reading. I, for one, love it when people make recordings, I often include them myself, for anyone who would want them there. Kind of funny actually, I never used to include them, and I got a lot of people requesting readings, so I looked into it and have been doing them for a while now, but you know, I have no idea how many actually listen to them. Some comment but just funny that’s all. Anyhow, I like them and this is a really good reading, definitely adds to the experience of the piece. Thanks.

  8. vivinfrance Says:

    A wonderful mourning poem, Karin. The metre MAKES your quatern, as demonstrated in your reading, so don’t apologise. Although not obligatory, many early quatern poems are written in iambics.

  9. beckykilsby Says:

    Graceful in lament.. wonderful use of the form Karin. This really works.

  10. cloudfactor5 Says:

    A touching poem dealing with the aftermath of death, I really like
    the refrain ! Well Done K

  11. Miriam E. Says:

    very emotional, very touching. i loved to hear you recite it.
    a wonderful refrain you chose, this will echo in my head for a long time.

  12. David King Says:

    It doesn’t happen often, but this definitely caused my eyes to moisten. The loveliest of readings.

  13. Mary Says:

    Karin, this poem brought a lump to my throat. I can identify on a personal level. There is something about the ground that is oh so cold. And though the ‘spark is gone’ I just cannot do this….. My eyes are wet too. Well written quatern, whether or not perfect form…the emotions were captured. The poem SAID something; and that is what is important to me.

  14. nico Says:

    Sad and lovely, just as it should be for this subject. The pentameter line is more elegiac–you made a wise creative choice here, tetrameter would not have done justice. Wow–so many powerful lines and images, you really poured yourself out to us, and I appreciate it much.

  15. janehewey Says:

    wow. this has your sharp wit and clever tone writ into an old form that gets softened by emotion and your pronoun changes in the repeating line. wonderful, K.

  16. This is so sadly elegant and gorgeous in its sound. The form reinforces the message, the message is more poignant in this form. Beautiful.

  17. I am so impressed K, both with form, rhyme and depth ~

    I also like the creative phrasing of the refraining line ~ Cheers ~

  18. kkkkaty Says:

    …most heartfelt from here..laying someone to rest is so suited to poetry in this form…and I have to re-educate myself about all the iambic, etc….I like the ‘yearn for spark and the ‘live shine turning on the round’….wow.

  19. Mama Zen Says:

    This is really well done. Beautiful work.

  20. K–Im so moved to a secret depth because I’m not one to free these type of emotions ~ Grandiose writing about a heart rendering subject ~ Thank you !

  21. A powerful and moving poem, k.

  22. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Great reading — changing “shaped” to “held” was a good choice.
    I understood some of the poem:

    (1) lamenting the deceased

    (2) the interment with only cold, harsh elements.Making choices for burying a loved one are always horrible — coffins, urns, site — none of that is comforting and yet they are built to pretend they should be.

    Images that didn’t click: tooth, up bone and gone and char
    Also, the 3 “it”s in the second verse — I guessing that is the urn?

    Question: what are all those acute marks for? Are you telling us where to put stress? Is that common — first time I have seen it.

    • Sabio Lantz Says:

      (ooops, forgot to follow)

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Hi Sabio!

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m not sure all the images click either and there are things about the lines that I also question; it was one of those poems that was written fairly quickly and late.

        But before getting to your questions – I put a lot of emphasis on punctuation–and some doesn’t read so clearly, especially the dashes, but if I do not have a punctuated pause at the end of a line, I mean for the line to run over into the next line without a pause.

        1. In this case – the “tooth” (and I’m not so sure about it either), is part of the round of tooth that catches the light. You know when someone smiles, or even just opens their mouth, light is reflected on the curved wet part of a tooth–that is what I am intending to get at – that kind of light that also is reflected in the eye and on the skin, particularly with overhead lighting!

        I liked to use “tooth” rather than smile, since i was also referring to other facial parts.

        2. It is not intended to be “up bone” – but “ground-up bone”. I was thinking of this later and realized that ground bone would be sufficient, that the “up” was not needed, and that the poem is probably too “dignified” for that kind of word play. Also, it is confusing. If you look at the other dashes – they are “em dashes” that is the long dash (sometimes symbolized by too little hyphens), and this one is just a simple hyphen. But I appreciate that it is hard to see that difference. I left it in for the meter of the line, but it is probably not necessary.

        3. Ground-up bone and gone and char. I really like the gone and the char. I appreciate that gone is not a noun and I am using it as one, but I loved the slant rhyme of bone and gone, and I liked the idea of ground-up absence, or goneness. Char is ash–I am talking about cremains here. I just like the word “char” and it seemed to me to fit that ash. (But I agree – it would probably be better to have it be “ground bone and gone and char,” only I’m afraid some readers would not get the enjambment so the “up” forces that a bit.)

        4. The “it”‘s in the second verse. You are right. They are a bit awkward. The first is a general “it’s” for it is true. The other two referred to pooled ash, not the urn. Becoming ash, being burned, being ashen, is not a process of being bared or revealed. It simply lays one out as ground-up bone, and gone (absence) and charcoal. That’s the idea of it.

        5. The accents are common in Gerard Manley Hopkins. I felt a little presumptuous to use them. Emily Dickinson may also use. The idea is that these are syllables to be stressed. Sometimes people use them with “spondees” (I may not have that right) where there are two accented syllables in a foot. I really may not have that right but I’m afraid that I will lose this comment if I go look it up. (It may have to do with Trochees? Something like that.

        At any rate, I wanted to emphasize that the line should slow down for those words. It is to create some kind of contrast between, tooth, cheek, pupil which may be run together.

        I think I’ve got everything. The urn is really a very relatively small aspect of the poem which is intended more to focus on the ash and the ground. k.

  23. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Hey k,

    Thanx so much for explaining your process and the particulars — very helpful!

    (1)”Tooth” – gave me a gruesome image of part of the non-cremated parts still showing and attached to the jaw and eye socket. So it did something very different to my mine.

    (2) Right, I like’d gone and char also. I could not tell the difference between a small dash and long day and splitting ground-up bone across lines is hard on my novice mind — but I have some others do things like that in modern poetry. Not a favorite of mine. And here, you can tell, it confused me. But I am the general population.

    (3) Yeah, I have heard of the Hopkins accents — I will have to look more into that.

    (4) The accent marks throw me because I work with other languages that use those for either pronunciation so they were weird for me.

    It is almost as if you are writing your poem with musical score to it! Fun.

    Again, fantastic explanation — thank you kindly.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      You are welcome. I agree the “up” is problematic. I think ground is perfectly good without it, but didn’t really focus on it till after I’d done recording etc and just couldn’t make up my mind. And I don’t know about the accents either! They may seem a bit affected. Didn’t mean it that way, but certainly don’t want that. k.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Or maybe not. (I’m still talking about the “up.”) Ha. What I like is that it creates a bit of an iamb for the next line! Oh well. I’ll think about it. Thanks. k.

      • Sabio Lantz Says:

        Laughing !!
        I feel like a fly in the artist’s studio watching their creative torment. Thanx for not swatting me. 😉

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      You know, I’m going to take the “up” out now. I think it is very distracting. Thanks.

  24. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Oh, btw, your own drawings and photos are such a very special aspect of your blog. Loved this shot in the NY woods – similar here in Pittsburgh!

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