Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mary Oliver, "The Kookaburras"

Mary Oliver can lapse into triteness, but she also has poems that touch on topics like the weakness and failures of the human heart:

"The Kookaburras"

In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to stride out of a cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, pressed against the edge of their cage,
asked me to open the door.
Years later I remember how I didn't do it,
how instead I walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn't want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Truck stop flowers, and a poem

We were traveling home from the coast today for Encounter Camp--an overnight trip where the professors from my university meet up with the new students in our department for introductions, orientation, and awkward ice-breaking games. On the way back today, the tour bus driving us with the students made a pit stop at what is basically a truck stop, a large travel plaza for travelers. I went to use the restroom--one of those charming Japanese-style ones where squatting is necessary--and as I went to wash my hands I noticed, carefully placed at the corners of the banks of sinks, paper cups full of fresh-cut flowers, unmutilated and unmolested. I had to touch one of them before I could really believe it.

Fresca reminds me that April is National Poetry Month, so I decided to take a look at some poems I bookmarked last summer for later contemplation. I love this poem for its cataloguing of a man's life, the things he finds valuable and holds in his memory, and its deft touch with father-son relations.

Wrist-wrestling father
by Orval Lund

On the maple wood we placed our elbows
and gripped hands, the object to bend
the other’s arm to the kitchen table.
We flexed our arms and waited for the sign.

I once shot a wild goose.
I once stood not twenty feet from a buck deer unnoticed.
I’ve seen woods full of pink lady slippers.
I once caught a 19-inch trout on a tiny fly.
I’ve seen the Pacific, I’ve seen the Atlantic,
I’ve watched whales in each.

I once hear Lenny Bruce tell jokes.
I’ve seen Sandy Koufax pitch a baseball.
I’ve heard Paul Desmond play the saxophone.
I’ve been to London to see the Queen.
I’ve had dinner with a Nobel Prize poet.

I wrote a poem once with every word but one just right.
I’ve fathered two fine sons
and loved the same woman for twenty-five years.

But I’ve never been more amazed
than when I snapped my father’s arm down to the table.

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