When immersed in a summer full of childhood, its trips to the beach, the playground, the pool, its lunches to pack, grocery store snack searches, toy car processions extending endlessly; when a day opens fifteen hours from the dawn and every minute is full in its turn; then my manner of meeting a poem, like every “adult” activity I attempt, undergoes a change, is imbued with something like hope, hope for a brief encounter with ordinary (though what is more ordinary than a child’s summer?), a bit of it that I can carry around inside my mouth all day like a gift I’m not required to give.
In this poem, built on a series of epithets and grandish claims (“Gods who make everything but promises,” “the wind does not deserve them”) that I have admired for years without forgetting, I find finally that the line that best fits my mouth is its quietest, its most ordinary line: “This is the prairie of shale and arrows”. I say ordinary, but maybe I mean reliable. Either way, though I haven’t visited a prairie of shale and arrows in years, the manner in which those three nouns enhance one another sonically is sufficient poetry for me this summer, this fatherhood, is sufficient language for me to see my just-mowed lawn for the prairie it isn’t and look back at the children from a richer vantage.
Should poetry hope to do more than that? The rest of the poem believes so, and so do I. But sometimes a line will do, sometimes a line that marks the essential smallness of cause poetry opens from (Valery said this somewhere) is enough to sustain a poem, or an hour, or a day, full of other impulses, other demands.
Note: the “one thing I admire” series is intended as a place for saying small things about poems or books of poems, and as an invitation for anyone reading to say something they admire about that poem or book of poems, via comment…AS