Today I wrapped a few Christmas packages in silver snowflaked paper, with neat folds pressed on the boxes. I went for a run on the hills, with the sharp pain in my calf reminding me that I cannot force myself back into my lithe and limber sixteen year old body in under a month’s time, or ever perhaps. I tucked my knees up under myself on the sofa and made a list of things yet to be done. I listened with rapture as my daughter told me about her first brave jump into the deep, deep end of the pool. I tossed my dirty socks to mingle and dance with my husband’s in the washing machine. I pared away the bruised bits of a Braeburn before I arranged the slices on a white porcelain plate.
It didn’t feel like drudgery. I was content. It all reminded me of this poem I tucked away many years ago.
I have spread wet linen
On lavender bushes,
I have swept rose petals
From a garden walk.
I have labeled jars of raspberry jam,
I have baked a sunshine cake;
I have embroidered a yellow duck
On a small blue frock.
I have polished andirons,
Dusted the highboy,
Cut sweet peas for a black bowl,
Wound the tall clock,
Pleated a lace ruffle …
I have lived a poem
Have you lived a poem today?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
The new bookshelves are here. I’m being deliberate about what goes where, which books will get priority seating. It’s a task that I could get lost in forever, perhaps especially this summer. Truth is, I’m having a rough go of it. I feel perpetually raw for so many reasons, known and unknown. My status, it seems, has hovered somewhere between salt in wound and gnat in room, with a cloak of irrelevance worn too many times in between. It’s hard to feel like that all of the time. Books have become my balm. They are my friends right now. We’re tight. We hang.
Yet given the many obligations I have to tend to, I can’t take all that much time to ponder the placement of my closest confidants. Maybe another time, but not right now. There are repair men to wait for, suitcases to be packed, dust motes to battle.
Still, I am indulging in a quick glance at my books as I tuck each one away. When I picked up Observe the Lark, poems by Katie Louchheim, I happened to turn to this poem. I don’t remember ever reading it, though I must have. It’s almost like she was speaking directly to me, right here in this moment. Maybe that’s why I don’t recall having read it before, when it wasn’t relevant. I suppose this is why books can so easily become friends—they always offer exactly the right words to say at exactly the right time.
The Sensitive One
You who are so sensitive,
so finely honed, so favored,
you walk through words.
The trees talk to you,
fiercely dispute their right
to own your silence.
Lush meadows, pleading streams,
lonely paths call you by name,
memorize your footfall.
You close the troubled doors,
You were last observed
reforesting, planting a new world.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I don’t have too many regrets in life, but one regret I do have is not taking any humanities classes while in college, save for one photography class. I was a biology major with hopes of becoming an ecologist (didn’t happen), and so I focused all of my attention on those kinds of labs and classes. At the time, I did not appreciate that the whole point of a liberal arts education is to actually take part in the diversity and range of classes available, including those outside your major. For this reason (and because I certainly didn’t pay attention during English classes in high school either), I often feel woefully lacking in an understanding and appreciation for literature and poetry. I have not read most classics. I have only a vague knowledge of some of the famous, long dead poets. Suffice it to say, you do not want me on your trivia team.
Yet, I find myself increasingly drawn to poetry lately, both writing and reading it. I’m not sure if it’s because of my 40th birthday (a month away) and having more clarity of what interests me, succumbing more to the writing life or even just my slow immersion into Twitter (saying so much with a pithy 140 characters!). Though I want to read more poetry, I often just don’t know where to start looking. Only certain “voices” and topics seem to speak to me yet there is just so much to sift through.
So, imagine my delight when, while at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair in November, I stumbled upon Urban Nature: Poems About Wildlife in the City, edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar (2000). Even more exciting? It’s a signed copy (Ms. Bosselaar and several of the poets). Even more exciting than that? The bookseller personally knew (and has stayed with while on vacation) the editor. This kind of “closeness” to the players forces me accept the limits of my iPad and ebooks.
Aside from any regrets I have about not taking classes about poetry, I also live with a certain sense of occasional melancholy about living in an urban area rather than the wooded rural type of environment I grew up in as a child. Indeed, I think much of my appreciation for trees, birds and the awesome interconnectedness of ecosystems stems from living in upstate New York for the years that I did. I am equally drawn to the urban life as I am to solitude in the woods. At the moment, the city wins.
So for me this collection was, in a word, perfect. It introduced me to several new poets that I likely would not have otherwise come to know. The poems focus on subjects—cities and wildlife—that are near and dear to me. I often find myself looking for the wild in our built environment. It’s harder some days than others, but there is a whole world thriving right before our eyes. But we have to be receptive to it, just like these poets.
The poems are separated into several categories: Cityscape; Streets, Highways, Bridges, Rivers; Seasons and Skies; Backyards, Gardens, Parks, and Zoos; and Animals in the Cities. There were several that resonated with me and provided much beautiful imagery. Like the collage that Gerald Hausman describes in “September City” and the changing of foliage by Lloyd Schwartz in “Leaves”. In “Nocturne”, Ellen Bryant Voigt has a way of describing, if not pardoning, the violence that inevitably occurs in cities and nature alike.
In “Going Home Madly”, Brooke Wiese describes the night sky like this:
The moon was new, a sliver rising over
Queens. The sky was plush as crushed velvet—
a midnight blue wedding lapel purpling over
the East River like the inside of a clamshell.
I must have read “Outlook” by Crystal Bacon at least four times on the first pass. It seems to so aptly describe a feeling I often have about living in close proximity to other people and all that comes with it, including the sights and sounds. You hate it on the dreary days—the clutter, grey and detritus of modern life—but then you are in awe of the sunset or trees that also fill that vista. The first stanza is just beautiful:
I’ve begun to love the cold, the slick, bitter seed
of this life: brittle, brilliant. Even the bare trees
have embraced the ice: arms and fingers shelled
in diamond, in glass, and still they wave and click,
bend and freeze in the chill kiss of the wind.
Loving trees as much as I do, I felt the sense of loss and sorrow described by Robert Ayres in “The Neighbor’s Elm”, which had been cut down due to disease. Birds also permeate throughout many of these poems and they are another living species to which I feel connected on a deep level. I love the description of the owl taking flight in “A Death in Larkspur Canyon” by Richard Garcia:
Going out that evening with the garbage
I saw something crouched below me.
Then it rose—an owl, dark, silent
billowing like a silk scarf thrown in the air.
“Brave Sparrow” by Michael Collier is just lovely, and gives a much needed acknowledgment to one of the most ignored urban birds, the lowly sparrow. Cardinals are one of my all-time favorite birds, so I understood and appreciated “Red Bird” by Gerald Steen. The tenderness and mystery of eggs and nests are so apparent and heartbreaking in “The Nest” by Carol Moldaw.
I could go on. Indeed, there are many, many good poems in this collection. It seems like a book that is best read across different seasons or city vantage points, though so far I’ve only read it in the fall from the comfort of my living room. If you’re a city person who likes to notice the “unnoticed” among the bustle, this book will speak to you. If you’re a nature lover who happens to live in an urban environment and you feel the tug of a more pristine world that you cannot access right now, this book will give you a bit of hope and comfort that there is an abundance of beautiful wildlife even within the concrete jungle.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
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