Once a very great poet said
she prefers the slow, circling
labor of writing, that when she thinks
she no longer has any agency,
she talks to the poem like a person
she loves, and asks it what it needs.
I serve it little dishes, a variety
of things, and see if it eats.
She ignores the ants
roaming around the edges
of her notebook and writes
for the reader on whom,
she hopes, nothing will be lost.
Another poet, after a lifetime
of writing says, It’s still an agony,
to this day. Yet I continue
marking blank pages as if I
am walking toward the January dusk
leaving my boot treads on a road
deep with snow.
It can feel like winter any time,
despite a perfectly generous sun
and no snow on the ground.
In the silence of night, if you listen.
you can almost hear a poet
etching scrimshaw onto bone.
Two young girls, thin as reeds,
wade into the pond,
red plastic pails and auburn braids
lean into their shadows
mirrored by shallow water,
pointing and playing
with minnows and crayfish – today’s delight
to capture a living thing
smaller than themselves.
so few things being smaller
than a young girl with a pail at a pond.
Watching them, I lean on the soft shoulder
of memory, of being raised by water,
soul-soaked in ponds, lakes, and rivers,
some that claimed classmates’ lives,
who for love of flying above their shadows
jumped onto reckless rope swings of darkness
daring to come up victors, immortal, alive.
Mine was a small town tucked
between four vivid seasons,
between the city and the shore.
Nothing much to do but risk
your life some way or another
to feel alive. I did it too, from one summer
to the next, dove into black lakes well past dark
and floated naked with open arms
to the night sky, tried to make the stars glisten
on my skin the way they did on the water’s surface,
and perhaps take a little of me
with them as they moved across the sky.
Life, we heard, was short,
childhood shorter, and I wanted to have mine
the way these young girls want
to take home the minnows and crayfish
and keep them, their secret,
if for no other reason
than to claim for themselves a small life ,
as I did, in that small town, which I knew
was only a freckle on the face
of the whole universe.
—PhrenZ, 2016, Scrimshaw
From a Line by Jack Gilbert
The Chinese say,
When you write a river, you are the river.
But today I am more the rain
rinsing the river’s ruddy throat.
Or yesterday’s sun, trying to swallow
some dark delay between my four o’clock
curtains. Mornings can be a ground
to lay our sorrows upon — a hard gift —
a tree trunk of a thing
where the past surges up like a fountain
and cascades at our feet.
It floods the world.
The one we step into.
The one we walk out of.
— SALT, Vol. 1, 2020, Scrimshaw
Links to literary journals
5 Poems: Hummingbird Press