"Millions of years after a star burns out, the light of memory remains." (Kevin Rabas on Saudade)


Kevin Rabas is a contributor to Half Mystic's second issuesaudade. He teaches at Emporia State University, where he leads the poetry and playwriting tracks. He has seven books, including Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner.


We asked three of our Issue II contributors to share with us their personal definitions of "saudade": how it is formed, where it has been, what it could be. Here is Kevin Rabas' vision of the drifting photograph – the ache so tender-willing – the shards of bitter-soft yearning just before the fall...

For me, it’s often easiest to write about what’s going on at once in front of me, or to delve into the deep past, dredging for those moments that I cannot forget because their light shines on, like a dead star’s light that shines on in the night sky. Thousands or millions of years after that star’s burnt out, the light of memory remains.

When it comes to writing about the deep past, we know that time cannot be reclaimed but merely represented, called up like a pack of actors on a stage loosely recreating something we once lived. The nuance is gone. The maps of the mind and the heart are gone. Those internal lines and rivers have dried. Instead, what we have is the essence of the dialogue and action, the scene. That, too, is the way I recreate when I write lines stemming from deep memory, like creating a script for a single scene. Only what belongs remains. The extra is edged, cut. The distractions are erased or forgotten. Time has a way of doing that.

This longing to create a moment or the kernel core of a memory is something we all grapple with, but artists do so in a real, tangible, present way. Our process is to share, while another’s is to relive. The artistic impulse is to form and shape that memory into something others can live, while the non-artistic impulse is to simply revive the memory as in dream, often full of saccharine, like the difference between looking at a Precious Moments figurine and a Miró sculpture. Both may entertain and excite, but one leads to the thought and the other leads to dismissal of the precious moment as one among many, as a memory indistinct from the those of the crowd: not a droplet, but an ocean; not a diamond, but a cartload of coal.

Art is about using the pressure of “making” to fuse diamonds, to stop water droplets as with a camera’s high shutter speed, to see what distinguishes one’s moment from another’s, while also respecting the whole, but parting from that mass.

In my poem in Half Mystic'saudade issue, I imagine my mother in her youth, playing flute in a marching band. Being her son, I never saw her that way, at that age, but, as I age, I can imagine it. I can begin to see further into her past through the lens of my own teenage son. His concerns mirror mine at his age, which begin to mirror back through the past to my mother’s youth and beyond. It’s like that painting on the side of the Velveta box, a woman holds a box depicting a woman holding a box - and on backwards and inwards, backwards and inwards, backwards and inwards, until the music stops.


Kevin Rabas' poem "Mother's Flute", along with more than twenty other pieces by contributors and two columns by the Half Mystic team, are compiled in Half Mystic's Issue II: SAUDADE, a stunning anthology of contemporary art, lyrics, & writing in celebration of music in all its forms. It is available for preorder now.