Sometimes, the Field
by Holly Wren Spaulding
Sometimes I bring my hunger to the field.
I sidestep the soft mounds,
the ants at their labor,
their back and forth with grains of sand.
I wait in the milkweed and withering thistle,
all of it turning and rustling in the wind.
I mean to come clean of everything—
no reason to want what isn’t.
Birds announce the coming storm—
they fly among the branches
not crashing into anything.
Dark with the next thought,
the ground is a wet reek
of old leaves and battered grasses.
It fills my mouth.
I am a wet outline now.
Now I am on my knees remembering
the summer we drove west
through humid hill country,
Chicago blues on the radio like it was 1940.
Fields flooded and the river
swelled near the trestles
and freight trains passed us all night
and then it was morning.
My poem-elf fantasy—and one of the reasons I write this blog—is that a poem I leave behind falls into the right hands at just the right time, and a life is enriched, a perspective altered, an experience understood. When I place a poem in a tree or on a sidewalk or store shelf, I always imagine the person who finds it. Let’s call that fantasy, named after today’s poem, “Sometimes, a poem.” As in, sometimes a poem can change everything. But also, sometimes a poem changes just a little thing. Even a little thing is a lot work for a few words to do.
Unfortunately, the only time I’ve been aware of Sometimes, a poem happening, it’s been happening to me. And once again, Poem Elf has elf-ed herself. “Sometimes, the Field” caught me unawares even after I had chosen it, printed it, and thought about where to put it. Over several readings, the poem illuminated an experience I had had. There was no lightening bolt of understanding—just a burrowing into my conscious life and a permanent residency there.
I came across this poem because poet Holly Wren Spaulding made a comment on Poem Elf. Her beautiful name intrigued me. Turns out she’s a poet who spends summers in northern Michigan, as I do. I decided to put one of her poems up north, in its native habitat, so to speak. When I looked through her work, my choice was instinctive: “Sometimes, the Field.”
I have my own field, you see, but I’ll get to that later. First, Spaulding’s field.
The field in the poem is dark and moody, full of movement and the drama of a coming storm. The poem’s speaker has come here with a restlessness of her own, a soulful hunger. She wants something. What she wants is not to have the hunger she came with.
I mean to come clean of everything—
No reason to want what isn’t.
As she steps into the field, she observes her environs with a quiet respect that draws me in. Somehow the way she knows her place in the field makes me feel tender to her. She sidesteps the ants’ work. She waits quietly in the weeds and wet earth. She admires the skill of the birds not crashing into the wildly flying branches.
As she waits in the milkweed and withering thistle, she becomes absorbed into the landscape, and the external and internal storms come together:
It fills my mouth.
I am a wet outline now.
The heavy humid air has connected her to the memory of a long ago road trip, a lost romance. Overwhelmed with grief, she falls to her knees.
We don’t know if the storm will wash away her pain. She may well leave the field with the same hunger she came in with, the wanting what isn’t. But at least she’s been able to mourn it openly, dramatically. Cathartically, I hope.
My tenderness for this speaker grows as I picture her on her knees in the open field, weeping, giving over her body to grief. The field allows her to express emotion un-self-consciously, a great gift. You can’t cry this way in a cubicle or mall unless you enjoy being stared at or whispered about. If you fall on your knees anywhere but church, someone will call an ambulance.
This is where my field comes in.
My field is on the grounds of Michigania, a family camp for alumni of University of Michigan. I am something of a trespasser. To get to there, I walk through woods along a sandy horse trail, up hills and down hills, the track narrowing then widening. Around the final bend, the path opens to a meadow. When I see the sky uncovered, the hills in full sun, the tall grasses leaning in light wind, the crickets jumping at my every footfall, something breaks open in me. Usually it’s a joyful expansiveness, a Julie-Andrews-twirl-in-the-mountains feeling. But lately something darker breaks out. A sob. Then weeping. Weeping like I haven’t wept since I was fourteen and watched West Side Story for the first time.
Regular readers of this blog know that I lost my mother a few months ago. I’ve been grieving in a typically Western way—-trying to keep busy and not giving in to moping and tears. So the first time I started crying in the Michigania field, I was surprised. It started with just a stray thought of my mom. Then an intense longing for her, which I had pushed down, down, down, took over me completely.
The crying happened on my hikes a few more times, but I wasn’t surprised anymore. I figured tears came because I was alone and there was no one near I had to explain myself to.
But I’m also alone in my room, in my car, on walks through my subdivision, and I don’t cry in those places. Spaulding’s poem clarified the situation. In the field, I’m able to feel. Some connection with nature or my own wild self opens things up. I leave it to someone else to analyze why nature provides this outlet and man-made spaces don’t. I just know I’m grateful to the field and to “Sometimes, the Field.”
There’s a passage from the beautiful novel A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr that I’ve quoted on this blog before, but Spaulding’s field poem and my experience in the field call for me to post it again:
We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever—the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on belfry floor, a remembered voice, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.
Holly Wren Spaulding’s connection to nature seems destined from the start. Her parents named her after a character called “Wren of the Woods” in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer. She grew up in the woods in northern Michigan, off the grid in a “pretty 19th century style of life,” as she details in this podcast about her own creative development. The family homesteaded in an experimental collective living community where she and her siblings chopped wood and carried water.
She now lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts where she runs Poetry Forge, another sort of collective space, this one for poets. You can read more about it here. In the summer she teaches creative writing at Interlochen in northern Michigan, including a class she teaches with her mother, artist Carol Spaulding.
She’s been widely published in literary journals and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She regularly collaborates with other artists, including this lovely project, a poetry-in-public-space installation called Urban Renga.
One last picture . . . a stray ant on her poem
Ms. Spaulding’s poem was a gift I needed today and your poetry gifts are a blessing to this Granny Woman! Thank you for your blog!
Thank you for reading and responding so kindly, Gerry!
It’s no surprise to me that Emily Wren Spaulding’s poem had such a powerful impact on you, surprising you with your grief. Just the experience of reading your post had a deep impact on me. Both the poem and your tale of paying a visit to Michigania brought back memories of when wandering through open fields has brought me to my senses. In such a state, how can pending grief be further forestalled? Her imagery was so vivid and evocative on a deep memory level. That alone would do the trick, but then your photos of a Michigan field–private, fertile, abuzz with life and nature’s mysteries including last season’s “old leaves and battered grasses” called up to too many memories to carry with any semblance of control and they all tumbled out and down to earth with grief slowly, insistently welling up and out. Thank God for poetry! Deep gratitude for the Poem Elf.
Your words are very moving. I hope Ms. Spaulding gets to read them…..any writer would appreciate such a heartfelt and honest response. Thank you for sharing.
Being brought to one’s senses as a result of a walk or a poem is a wonderful thing. Thanks for reading and commenting, Tom.
How lovely – poem, context, photo.
Please keep doing this – it’s strangely comforting somehow.
Jim E./Auburn NY
PS I think you will enjoy this beautiful poem I learned recently:
CALLING MY UNCLE
I called my uncle. I had something to tell him.
Out of the clear blue, he sent me five hundred dollars.
He was giving gifts to his nieces and nephews.
I was living in Binghamton, working as a substitute teacher
and living in a crappy apartment.
I didn’t know if I would have work from day to day.
I didn’t know why he was giving me a gift, but when I saw the check, I was grateful.
My uncle was old school. When he died, a friend referred to him
as “a diamond in the rough.”
I thought about what I knew of him. He had been in World War II.
There were some stories. Hard times. At his funeral, his brother – my dad –
told a long rambling story about how my uncle took
my father to a baseball game when my dad was young.
My father stood by the graveand recounted. He remembered that on that day the famous player, Joe Dimaggio, hit two home runs.
It seemed like a funny story to tell at a funeral. And even more odd
was how my dad referred to the baseball player as, “Joe D.”
Looking at the hole in the ground, he said,
“…and Joe D hit two homers.”
He hesitated, as if trying to find a few more words. Nothing.
Then eventually he said, “I liked him,” and took a small step back.
I wasn’t sure whom my dad was referring to: the baseball player
or my uncle? And then I realized it must be my uncle – his brother.
He was talking about his brother.
It was a year earlier that I called to thank him.
I felt my uncle had looked down from somewhere and saw where the dark was collecting in the corners and wanted to do something for me.
When I called, I told him I wanted to thank him.
He didn’t say anything. I said it was a surprise. I listened, waiting for a response, wondering if there were something else I could say.
That’s the hard part: knowing what to say.
I imagined my father’s brother in his Bronx apartment, the way he was the last time I saw him. How he came to the door in his underclothes and then rested in bed while we talked.
I hadn’t seen him like that before.
It was the beginning of his physical decline.
Before that, he was all strength and good humor.
Now, on the phone, it was as if we were both standing in the dark.
The undivided dark that we all share, but must abide alone.
Maybe it was that that made me really feel the simplicity of his gift,
and I told him I didn’t think I deserved it. It was then that the silence on the other end of the line seemed more intense. I heard a sound like someone trying to breathe.
And then I realized, he was crying. Quietly sobbing. Years later, after I gave a poetry reading, a friend of my father’s
came up to me and shook my hand, and then he surprised me.
Holding my hand a moment longer, he said, You’re not nothing.
We were standing in the doorway. I wasn’t sure what he meant.
I still remember that. I didn’t know, but I sensed it was meaningful.
After some time, it came to me, and I knew what to say.
Thank you, Uncle George, I said. I love you.
And before I hung up, and then for some time after, it seemed
my uncle and I were dwelling together in a timeless place.
A different place. Not this one.
Beautiful….I love that “dwelling together in a timeless place.” What we all want.
Thanks for sharing.
M- Loved that one! Could hear the cicadas, smell the Earth, taste the sandy air, See the wide open spaces and harbor under the green canopies .Summer Michigan at its best. Thanks
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks for reading!
Hearing the insects, tasting the air, smelling the earth–these are precisely the things that I want my poems to evoke in readers. Thanks for commenting, Pat.
It is 2 in the morning at the University of Dayton and I find myself sitting alone on a couch reason your poem-elfiness posts. (I am one of A.M.’s close friends — who introduced me to your blog). I am an art and poetry enthusiast and each time I read your post my heart beats a little faster. They are moving and add a little substance to the days I spend time reading them. I am an Art Education major and have been feeling a little discouraged lately, so thank you for the inspiration, beautiful words (as always), and sharing your passion with me and others — it’s truly a delight.
Morgan, It’s good to hear from you. I love having young (and voluntary!) readers, and I appreciate so much your comments, your open-mindedness and open-heartedness. It will be interesting to see how your reading of poetry enriches your study of art!
I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling discouraged . . . college, for as much as we tell our kids is “the best four years of your life,” can also be soul-crushing and lonely. Whatever the reason for your discouragement, please know it doesn’t last…life has a funny way of getting better…. and if it does last longer than you can handle, help is everywhere around you. You just have to do the hard work of asking.
I don’t want to overreact to what might be a stray comment late at night, but I also want you to know you aren’t alone, ever.
loved the poem and the pictures 🙂
Thanks for reading, Rhea!