Earlier this summer, my daughter-in-law introduced me to Clint Smith‘s book, How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. I immediately bought a copy, but haven’t started it yet. Then I found the summer issue of Poets & Writers at my local book store, and there was Clint Smith on the cover. What an amazing backstory to how this book came into the world! The article made me curious about Smith’s poetry, which led me to this poem. Sadly, it’s all too appropriate for this week, this month, this year.
When people say, “we have made it through worse before” by Clint Smith
all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones of those who did not make it, those who did not survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who
did not live to watch the parade roll down the street. I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to
convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no solace in rearranging language to make a different word tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe
does not bend in a direction that will comfort us.
On August 1st, as many of you dove headfirst into The Sealey Challenge, reading a book of poetry a day, I drove to my son’s house to spend the week with my granddaughter. (And her parents, too, of course!) I planned on spending the week reading Goodnight Moon, The Pout Pout Fish, Babybug, and more. And I did. But on Monday afternoon, I realized I could download a book of poetry and read it during Hazel’s nap. It seemed worth a try. I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across What We Carry, by Dorianne Laux. But her name was familiar and the title intrigued me, so I clicked “borrow,” and began to read.
Laux’s poetry is filled with odd, precise details, astute observations, painful questions, and brilliant, shimmering metaphors. Reading a book of her poetry a day would be like chugging a glass of water on a blistering hot day: initially sating, but not enough. There is too much to savor. Too much would be missed. So I am not participating in #TheSealeyChallenge this year. Besides, whoever decided this challenge should happen in August was clearly not a teacher. (Kudos to you all who are participating while getting ready to head back to the classroom!) I have been reading more of Dorianne Laux’s poetry, studying and learning from her craft. Here is one of my favorites.
Life of Earth by Dorianne Laux
The odds are we never should have been born. Not one of us. Not one in 400 trillion to be exact. Only one among the 250 million released in a flood of semen that glides like a glassine limousine filled with tadpoles of possible people, one of whom may or may not be you, a being made of water and blood, a creature with eyeballs and limbs that end in fists, a you with all your particular perfumes, the chords of your sinewy legs singing as they form, your organs humming and buzzing with new life, moonbeams lighting up your brain’s gray coils,
It’s the first Friday of the month, so that means another critique group challenge. We have a new name! Heidi, Linda, Margaret, and Molly and I are now the Inklings! It was my turn to provide this month’s prompt, and I confess, I was at a bit of a loss. Then I received a postcard from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art about their new exhibit: Speechless: The Art of Wordless Picture Books. As I read about the announcement, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to write ekphrastic poems. Here is the prompt I shared with my fellow Inklings:
Write an ekphrastic poem in response to a favorite scene in a wordless picture book (or any painting/photo/piece of art you choose).
I am a huge fan of wordless picture books. I am also a huge fan of the Carle and live close enough that a visit to Amherst, MA is the perfect day trip. Before I selected the image I wanted to write about, I packed my great-niece and nephews along with my friend Colette into the car and headed north on I-91. This show, curated by the brilliant David Wiesner, is a celebration of storytelling through images, and it did not disappoint. Along with original artwork from old and new favorites, the walls were adorned with life-sized characters from the books. My six-year old nephew was quite taken with the images from Christian Robinson’s recent book, Another, so this is the image I chose to inspire my poem for this month’s challenge:
Please be sure to visit my fellow Inklings to read their responses to this month’s challenge: