A Place for the Genuine

Poetry and the Wilderness Within

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Big Wind

I am immersed in poetry today. It is a quiet Sunday and I am at a small coffee shop in a tiny town in northern New Mexico. I am seated opposite shelves of books people leave and take. A free library. Photographs grace the walls: a large scalloped stone cross on a grave covered with carnations, Hermit’s Peak reflected in a lake, aspen tree trunks as seen from the ground up – the tree tops stretching endlessly toward a periwinkle sky.

Other patrons chatter and the espresso machines thrum and woosh. Fans rotate slowly and silently as light spills from windows in the next room and across the tiled floor and through the opening to my adjacent room, but it doesn’t reach me. I am many things today, grateful and impatient. Filled with dreams, longing, and frustration. Poetry grounds me.

I share one of my favorite poems, by Theodore Roethke, here:


Where were the greenhouses going,
Lunging into the lashing
Wind driving water
So far down the river
All the faucets stopped? —
So we drained the manure-machine
For the steam plant,
Pumping the stale mixture
Into the rusty boilers,
Watching the pressure gauge
Waver over to red,
As the seams hissed
And the live steam
Drove to the far
End of the rose-house,
Where the worst wind was,
Creaking the cypress window-frames,
Cracking so much thin glass
We stayed all night,
Stuffing the holes with burlap;
But she rode it out,
That old rose-house,
She hove into the teeth of it,
The core and pith of that ugly storm,
Ploughing with her stiff prow,
Bucking into the wind-waves
that broke over the whole of her,
Flailing her sides with spray,
Flinging long strings of wet across the roof-top,
Finally veering, wearing themselves out, merely
Whistling thinly under the wind-vents;
She sailed until the calm morning,
Carrying her full cargo of roses.

I imagine this poem as a metaphor for the earth, a greenhouse with a cargo of humans, bison, armadillos, cobras, chipmunks, fire ants, columbine, pinon, cattails… but unlike this poem, the storm has only just begun and we cannot anticipate its ending. I recently read Bill McKibben’s latest essay “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in the online edition of The Rolling Stone, august 2012. Terrifying is an apt description and I waver between acceptance of human’s impending extinction and a strange mixture of outrage, hope, and activist aspirations – what can I do as an individual to slow the heating in some small way and to teach my daughters how to be strong, creative, and resilient in the decades to come?

I love the language in Roethke’s poem and the extensive alliteration and assonance he uses. I love the way the sounds build, the present continuous “ing”s pinging like the start of the rain, and the “w”s working with the “o”s to create a howling sensation at the height of the storm, followed by the tapering off, the hushed sounds of “s”s and “th”s, and the resolute hard “c”s, strong and enduring at the end. And the end seems so final, so clear. There is no hint of another, future storm. This is refreshing for me at the moment. Silence after the storm.


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In Media Res

Beginnings confound me. As far as I can tell there are no beginnings or endings, only a vast infinity of middle. Every story begins in media res – but it is the choosing of a particular moment of middle that is the most challenging. But does it matter ultimately? Time appears to behave as the tide does, rushing forward and pulling back, spilling shells and slick strands of seaweed in one moment and reclaiming stones that had remained rooted for decades back into the depths of the sea. It is all told eventually and the omissions, the silence, often carry the most meaning of all. The silence in me is the faint echo of the sea in a conch – amplified and roaring. But I cannot begin by rushing in. I will start with a few drops.