Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Poetry Night


All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon's heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun's muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground - old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.
Donald Hall

When I was a freshman in college, I especially appreciated poetry. I met a man that wrote poetry. I was so thrilled to have a poet boyfriend, I was willing to overlook his numerous character flaws that later reared their presence, one by one, making the relationship not so much fun. One silly poem he wrote for me is as follows:

How, now brown cow.
She's dead now,
My poor little sow.
Never a corker,
My unfortunate porker.

I was taking a poetry class at the time, 16th through 19th century English poets taught by a TA who thought we all (only 4 in the class) should become English majors. We met at the instructor's house and it was grueling. I ended up spending more time on that class than my science classes.

But my boyfriend was taking a much better class on modern poetry taught by Donald Hall. I would attend with him the lectures, which I really enjoyed. I even bought one of Hall's books of poetry out of my very meager funds. He was a gifted lecturer and of course, poet. He was the nation's poet laureate in 2006. He married another poet, Jane Kenyon, and left Ann Arbor to live in his mother's ancestoral home in New Hampshire and to be a full time poet. He had metastatic colon cancer with little chance of survival but he did recover. Unfortunately, the love of his life, Jane, soon had leukemia and died within 18 months. He went through an extended period of grief without writing but now he deals with his grief in poetry.

Donald Hall was giving a lecture last night at UM so I had to go. He is now 81 years old and no longer has a booming voice but still can command an audience, which was standing room only. He still has quite the sense of humor reading his poem enititled Tennis Ball about a visit to his wife's grave with his lab who becomes distracted by a couple having sex at the outskirts of the cemetary.

Today was my long run out on the 'scenic beauty road' which in Michigan means no cutting the trees on the shoulder. I am slowly making progress against the mess of clothes my closet and drawers have become filled with things that would be nice if only I repaired the zipper or were a few sizes smaller. Despite all the running, I am still too big but at least I've firmed up considerably.

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