December 9th, 2017
Christmas came early for me with the gift of Marie Howe’s poetry. Where have I been? What have I been doing that I am just now discovering her work?
I read a line of one of her poems and scratched it down on a Post It. Then I googled her. And found the whole beautiful piece:
WHAT THE LIVING DO
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight
the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here, and
I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street,
the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my
wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to
pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and
then more of it.
Next, I bought all her poetry books. I’m reluctant to open the last collection since I don’t want the music to end.
THE COPPER BEECH
Immense, entirely itself,
it wore that yard like a dress,
with limbs low enough for me to enter it
and climb the crooked ladder to where
I could lean against the trunk and practice being alone.
One day, I heard the sound before I saw it, rain fell
darkening the sidewalk.
Sitting close to the center, not very high in the branches,
I heard it hitting the high leaves, and I was happy,
watching it happen without it happening to me.
And this one from Howe’s most recent collection, MAGDALENE:
One day the patterned carpet, the folding chairs,
the woman in the blue suit by the door examining her split ends,
all of it will go on without me. I’ll have disappeared,
as easily as a coin under lake water, a few to notice the difference
–a coin dropping into the darkening–
and West 4th Street, the sesame noodles that taste like too much peanut butter
lowered into the small white paper carton–all of it will go on and on–
and the I that caused me so much trouble? Nowhere
or grit thrown into the garden
or into the sticky bodies of several worms,
or just gone, stopped–like the Middle Ages,
like the coin Whitman carried in his pocket all the way to that basement
bar on Broadway that isn’t there anymore.
Oh to be in Whitman’s pocket, on a cold winter day,
to feel his large warm hand slide in and out, and in again.
To be taken hold of by Walt Whitman! To be exchanged!
To be spent for something somebody wanted and drank and found delicious.
“Wine is bottled poetry.”–Robert Louis Stevenson