© Another Day in the Country
I was particularly delighted to be reminded, this week, that the month of April is National Poetry Month. While letters were the first organized structure of sentences that I learned to write, poetry was the first structure of lines that I kept somewhere. Letters were sealed up, sent off, and mailed away. Poems were scribbled on scraps of paper, stuck in a book or scrunched at the back of a drawer.
Poems were usually hidden, a guilty pleasure or the remnants of a private wound. Rarely were poems shared. Poetry, for me, has never been sold. My poems were seldom read out loud. And the strangest thing of all about the poetry I’ve written is that it comes and goes.
This need to organize words to sing without music, to march across paper in a particular cadence, where even the measure of the lines is unique, almost startles me. “Where did this poem come from?” I ask myself. “How did this particular sequence of words become so necessary?”
Then, as I got older, I discovered that there were people who made their living writing poems. Some poets I could understand. Other poets left me bewildered. It’s still the same as I ask, “Really? Could an arrangement of words that speak to the human experience, sometimes rhyming and sometimes not, really buy groceries?”
E.E. Cummings was one of the first poets that fascinated me as an adult. I’d read the famous poets of my time in literature classes but Cummings was a poet I happened upon on my own and I was intrigued. His style of marching words, singling them out for a solo part upon the page, was like approaching a candy display.
Poetry has come into my life off and on, like waves bumping against the shoreline. Sometimes the words have raged and tumbled over rocks of circumstance. At other times the pools are deep and still. I know the signs, like approaching weather fronts and so I find a quiet moment, a piece of paper, a pen and write.
When I was reminded the other day that April was National Poetry Month, I went looking for the book where years ago I recorded some of my poetry. I needed to read it again, to be reminded of the time that this particular configuration of words came to me. There is nothing quite like a poem to jog your memory, perhaps because poetry is so full of emotion and as you read, there it all is, like a hologram materializing out of the mist.
In my late 20s, I lived on a hillside just outside of Steamboat Springs, Colo. From our perch we could see the valley floor where the highway cut through the mountains and emptied itself into town. I read these lines that I wrote then, and once again I can smell the pine woods, flavored with smoke, air so still, so cold it crackles:
“What moonlight does to my valley is a miracle to behold. It warms the hills so dark and bleak and the temperatures so cold. It turns the snow to crystals and diamond encrusts the ground, transforms the road and car lights into a jeweled crown. It’s a fairyland, a castle, in the elegance of night. My gift beribboned with moonbeams, if you really see with your sight.”
Maybe 10 years later, another set of lines was written down, squirreled away until it saw the light of day. I can’t duplicate in a newspaper’s columns the way it actually appeared on the page, so you’ll have to imagine an arrangement of your own. It’s called “Alone.”
“It’s in the ebb and flow of things, spun round to sometimes catch the sting, caught in the time that binds and clings in the web of my own choosing — held fast inside some foreign land, deserted on a cluttered strand, waiting for an outstretched hand that I’m scared to death of losing. Immobile, freezing cold, I hide in familiar places out of stride, rocking in silence, soul, don’t chide my melancholy musings. If I could fly, where would I go? What safe spots dare I haunt or know? How much of naked spirit show? How sane this grand illusion? And do I hurt less for the telling? For now reality becomes my dwelling, appearing here before my eyes, some innocence it’s killing. Silence, my own confusion.”
When I first came back to Kansas, the countryside — which was old — seemed new to me, inspiring poems like this one about my Aunt Anna, who still loves flowers:
“At Anna’s gate, the larkspur wait to hear a mockingbird. Footsteps on sod, the larkspur nod by Anna’s passing stirred. Though not for hire, the flowers conspire to go where they are able. She’s stooping down, gathering them ’round, for Grace on Anna’s table.”
These poems, my gift to you, on another day in the country.