For this sextet of poems, I will not make a pretense of having read one per day. In truth, I felt a little at sea after week three; I wanted to leave more up to chance and to be surprised, but I wasn’t sure how to invite random poems in. I asked friends for recs. I followed links and favorited poetry tweets. Some of these poems I read once during the week, others I read over and over again.
“Today,” by Walter Butts, arrived in my inbox exactly when I needed it. I was fielding some Emails from an aggressive, bullying author, and though I could laugh off his bad behavior while it was happening, this poem made me tear up a bit and want to commit to pursue more beautiful, more delicate ways to pass the time. Because I haven’t seen it posted in too many places and because Butts has very recently passed away, I will reproduce it here in full.
Today is your lover, asleep
and dreaming the continuous fountain.
It is your body
dying without you.
It is the darkness
of distant trees
poised on the horizon,
like those strange shadows
of small animals
that danced across the moonlit ceiling
of your childhood.
It is a long-tailed kite,
or random bird.
It is a child
grasping the tenuous cord
Today is the desire
of sudden rain, or it is you
driving through that rain,
not knowing the difference
between curved road and sky.
“Currying the Fallow-Colored Horse” by Lucy Brock-Broido was posted on The Hairpin earlier in the month, while I was still flipping through my Imagist anthologies. My mind kept coming back to it, though. It’s an odd, spiky poem, written to a “you” in terse lines, almost couplets in that almost every two lines concludes a thought, but the links between the thoughts and their relevance to “you” isn’t totally clear. It’s like a secret message. Yet, I like it, and I kept coming back to it, because I found some of the images so memorable: I feel sympathetic to the narrator who “did not like the wool of him” and kisses her fragile lover “blondly on the mouth.”
Through a Facebook friend I learned that Apiary Magazine was celebrating NaPoWriMo with various Philly-area folks’ favorite poems. One of these led me to Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself,” which I am tempted to print out and pin up as advice to my self too. “Leave the dishes,” the poem begins, and then advocates the leaving of numerous other small household chores in favor of cleaning out that far more neglected space, the heart. It’s a powerful poem, even when humorous–“Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons/in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life,” the narrator advises None of the dusty things, decayed things, or messy things mean much when the more powerful organizations of language, writing, and passion are at stake.
I think I’ll enjoy reading that one out loud periodically in the way I occasionally revisit Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” which I find placating when I’m ruffled. In truth, though, I don’t want to lose so many things or leave so much undone. The small household chores can be an annoyance, but living alone, I do them for myself and no one does them for me. They are small ways of reminding myself that I am cared for. (By me.)
Speaking of “One Art,” I read a parody in Berfrois during the week: the timely “NaPoWriMo Suite” by Daniel Bosch. His parodic “Two Arts” is not the most skillful villanelle you’ll ever read, but I am willing to forgive much for the hilarious line suggesting that getting a Master’s permits you to glide through a few years “on casters.” Clever!
Someone on my Twitter feed linked to “Cat in an Empty Apartment” by Wisława Szymborska on the NYReview of Books website. It’s a fine balance between humor and sadness, with the titular cat experiencing ennui and a bit of existential angst (“what can a cat do/ in an empty apartment?/ Climb the walls?/ Rub up against the furniture?”). Someone is still feeding him fish, but the timing is all wrong. Through the cat’s unease, one gets the idea that something sadder is going on–perhaps his person passed away–yet there is the cat plotting how to theatrically convey his offense and displeasure when his person returns.
While I was poking around for biography links for an earlier cited poem, the Poetry Foundation website slyly suggested I read “Gravitas” by Sara Miller. A thoughtful image for someone like me, whose griefs tend to manifest in physical heaviness, both real and imagined. But for the heavy words of ghosts and nightmares, the narrator rose anyway.
If anything, the accidental theme of this week’s poems–all brought to me by the good offices of friends and social media feeds–is the struggle to regain levity: the balloon of hope, the relief of shedding petty concerns, the busywork of planning ahead in the face of the gaping maw of uncertainty.