The other night I heard Leland Kinsey read from his new book of poems, Galvanized, at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick. Leaving home on a weeknight is always a pain, with homework rearing up, dinner dishes, and – although it’s only ten minutes – the ten minutes in the car to drive. I’m always glad when I get to the bookstore, though. The company is familiar and jovial; the books are terrific.
I’ve been to many, many readings at this Hardwick bookstore, but this reading was particularly fine. I’d brought my knitting, but I left it in my lap, untouched. A couple in the back had come with their baby, and the little one’s babbles wove beneath Leland’s voice. Leland hails from a lengthy line of Vermont farmers, and his poetry is strewn with glacial erratics, swallows, ponds – with a keen awareness of mortality, of hard physical work, of human frailty, and love. Perhaps what I admire most about his poetry is that constant thread of beauty, winding all through his words like that baby’s murmur.
Galvanized is a collection of poems suffused with life, penetrating into the deepest recesses of our lives, a book of laughter and tears and beauty, the matter of our everyday lives. Isn’t that what poetry is all about?
…. The same uncle said recently about a blue suit,
“I bought it to be laid out in;
now I’m wearing it to the wakes of others.
Life takes so long.”
What makes a life? A friend of mine told me she once took stock of her life, tallying.
How to measure a life? By a house, bank accounts, grandchildren at the Thanksgiving dinner table? Or perhaps none of this. When I look at my sprawl of past and present, the one thing I think is: love better. The best and most fulfilling things I have done have been freely given. Perhaps this is why to love as a parent (while unbelievably difficult at times) is so fulfilling; any morsels of childish love passed back are pure gravy, savory sweetness.
I’ve never known love as greeting card, prettied up with pastel hearts. Love is as indomitable a force as a woman’s contractions in labor, bearing down to bring a new being into this world, or slender coltsfoot blossoms cracking apart winter’s ice. Love better: surely that would mean widening your heart in unexpected ways.
Today, in this April brown and beige world, I saw a cardinal fly into a thicket, a rare bright bird this far north. I went looking for the hidden little feathered creature. I knew it harbored in those tangled branches, its tiny heart hammering away fiercely in this cold.
And now, I have my own household of teenage girls to attend to, with their own laughing and open hearts……
Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In
You simply go out and shut the door
without thinking. And when you look back
at what you’ve done
it’s too late. If this sounds
like the story of a life, okay….
I stood there for a minute in the rain.
Considering myself to be the luckiest of men.
Even though a wave of grief passed through me.
Even though I felt violently ashamed
of the injury I’d done back then.
I bashed that beautiful window.
And stepped back in.
A few days ago, I inserted Lucille Clifton’s “The Lost Baby Poem.” In graduate school, a professor passed around copies of this poem at the beginning of one workshop. We all sat there, silently, and then a friend of mine began to cry, tears streaming down her face, soundlessly.
My professor cleared his throat and said sadly, Nothing said about this poem is enough said.
My house of females has a lot of talking, but sometimes I remind my daughters that silence can be just as mighty, the absence of words as powerful – for good or ill – as speaking or writing. That sometimes enough is really enough.
To underestimate the appeal of art is to underestimate not only poetry but also human nature. Our hunger for myth, story, and design is very deep…. If we are not in love with poems, the problem may be that we are not teaching the right poems. Yet ignorance of and wariness about art gets passed on virally, from teacher to student. After a few generations of such exile, poetry will come to be viewed as a stuffy neighborhood of large houses with locked doors, where no one wants to spend any time.
When I left the hospital ten years ago with my newborn daughter, June had arrived while I spent those days in the birthing center. Every day that May, it had rained, cold rain and humid sticky rain, all day rain and brief passing showers. Every variety of Vermont rain had stormed that month: a rainy season to cap a pregnancy that, by its end, I felt near to drowning with its effort. Walking up the stairs, I had to linger on the landing and gasp for breath. Sleeping, I startled wake, choking for air.
But when we left, we drove past black-soil farm fields freshly plowed. In regular furrows, early corn had sprouted during those few days of my confinement. The pregnancy over, my healthy and whole infant in my arms, I was jubilant, and the earth herself appeared rapturous. That summer proved especially dry and hot.
On this Memorial Day, May 30th, a day of sadness beyond sadness, here’s a David Budbill poem from Happy Life:
Hard rain all night
morning rags of mist
Just about ten years ago, I gave birth to my second child. Like I imagine death, birth is a sacred space, and by that I mean nothing with a blue aura and a mandala on the wall, but a space that is wholly out of secular time. When I labored with my first child, I had to travel so far to get her. The geographical map of her birth was only a few rooms, but the journey for her to arrive in my arms, squalling and ruby-lipped, was beyond measure.
As my daughter begins traversing her own female journey, I tucked in a poem among her treasured birthday cards. This poem has the quickness of a child, coupled with maternal blessings. Poetry, in its own sacred territory, is a litany to murmur in the soul’s dark night, a comfort and conjoining between people, a radiant gift to offer a beloved child. Here’s Lucille Clifton:
blessing the boats
(at saint mary’s)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back
may you open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that