Where poems come from
|a highway in northern Michigan, October 2012.|
I recently heard an interview on WUNC with poet Gibbons Ruark. In it, he said that there are only two kinds of poems: love poems and elegies.
At first it struck me as accurate, but I think that I might add wonder to that list. I remember days as a kid walking around in the woods and being inspired to write by what I experienced there. The poems were mostly made of observations and questions. The back yard is a fascinating world when you know little about it – you just see the colors and want to save them.
But why a poem? I keep coming back to tension. I used to write poems more often than I do now, and for me they always arose out of something unexpected, welcome or unwelcome. A jolt.
Last week, for the first time in a while, I felt a jolt. And I scribbled down a poem. It felt good. Like washing your face after a long day. Like hearing a song that fills an empty space inside. Like going for a run and feeling limber and free. Poems do that. Writing music does that. I imagine there are all sorts of creatives expressions that do that. For me, music and poetry run the game. Here’s what I wrote. I think I'll call it Evening Commute.
Today I want to drive home
through the forest as the sky pales
and let the asphalt guide me, winding
around the old growth woods on four wheels.
When I reach the right gate to a forest fire lane
I’ll pull over and step out
gravel crunch, gravel crunch, leaves
through an opening in the trees
I’ll walk til I find the right scene
and stop. I'll lay my work brain there
atop a pillow of moss beneath a tall spruce
to cool off, to pulse out its heat in the softer air.
Then I’ll tiptoe around the tall tree
along a shaggy deer path between bending ferns,
push back the saplings and spring briars
until I find it –
my heart in a pool of water waiting
for me to come lift it
from the clear slough and say
yes, it’s me, I am here to hold you
to pick you up and feel your cool muscle in my hands
and I am ready now
to go home.
There's a beautiful forest on Duke University's campus with a road through it - trees tall and wide enough to shade the road that weaves through it. This is the place I was thinking of. After a long day at work, I was ready to stop rushing, stop thinking and embrace the parts of life that give meaning. Like music. Like love. But it's so hard to explain a poem in sentences like this. Better to understand it from the words that tumbled out.
P.S. - I first learned of Gibbons Ruark when I lived in Paris. I found a used copy of his book Keeping Company in the English bookstore Shakespeare & Co. It was exactly what I needed there, a foreigner in a beautiful and busy place, and I read it many times. I even wrote him a letter from my little Parisian apartment, which he kindly answered