I went to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for my fortieth high school reunion thinking surely, after all these years, a lot of poems would come to me. But I only got a few. You never know. They’re all in Reunion. I could give you one of those here, but I picked a different one from that book because I thought it might give momentary comfort in these frightening times.
What I’m looking for in a poem has shifted these days. Every poem is political—I could talk about that at length!—but some carry with them an awareness of particular ways of seeing that help us, or at least help us recognize a companion spirit at a particular time. In this case, a mouse.
I admire the way mouse dashes across the top bracket
of the blinds while we’re reading in bed. I admire the tiny whip
of its tail at the exact second my husband tries to grab it.
I admire the way it disappears into our house and shreds various
elements. I admire the way it selects the secret corridors
behind cupboards and drawers, the way it remains on the reverse
side of our lives. The mouse is what I think of when I think of
a poem, or of music, going straight for the goods, around
the barrier of our thoughts. It leaves droppings, pretending to be
not entirely substantial, falling apart a little here and there.
Clearly, it has evolved perfect attention to detail. I wish it would
concentrate on the morning news, pass the dreadfulness out
in little pellets. Yesterday I found a nest of toilet paper and
thought I’d like to climb onto that frayed little cloud. I would like
to become the disciple of that mouse and sing “Wooly Bully”
in a tiny little voice in the middle of the night while the dangerous
political machines are all asleep. I would like to have a tail
for an antenna. But, I thought, also, how it must be to live alone
among the canyons of cabinets, to pay that price, to look foolish
and trembling in daylight. Who would willingly choose to be
the small persistent difficulty? So I put out a spoonful of peanut butter
for the mouse, and the morning felt more decent, the government
more fair. I put on my jeans and black shirt, trying not to make
mistakes yet, because it seemed like a miracle that anyone tries at all.
I looked hard for a photo of a trillium with blood-red markings, because there was one in a poem in the collection. I found one on line and wrote to the photographer, Susan Farmer, to ask permission to use it. I sent her $100, but I think she would have given it to me free. She seemed pretty happy to have it as a book cover. I thought it was perfect.
I’ve been using these posts to go back through the collections included in The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, before the book launch next week, Thursday, March 16, from 5-7 at The Corner Loft http://www.cornerlofttc.com/ in Traverse City. I hope you’ll come, if you’re within range. I’ll read, Becky Somsel will play the harp (not at the same time!), and we’ll have refreshments. I’m looking forward to a great party!