Ten years ago I taped my first poem (Mark Strand’s “The Coming of Light”) to a yellow post in a parking lot. My heart was racing as if I had done something transgressive. But I was also happy, pleased as punch, giddy. Who would find the poem? What would they think? Would the poem help them, heal them, lighten their load, brighten their day, irritate, unnerve or challenge them? Three hundred some poems later, those questions and that giddiness are still there every time I leave a poem for someone to find.
This month I’m delighted to share that experience with you, dear readers. Responses are coming in to my Ten Year Collaboration Project (yes, the official name keeps changing, gotta figure that one out). I’ll post readers’ contributions every other day till I run out.
NOTE: send your pictures (one close-up, one context) and commentary (if you want) to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to get more than I can post in one month!
Here we go.
We begin with Sharon from Greeley, Colorado. I love her selections—Mary Oliver, Anne Porter, both spiritual wise women and great, great poets. Years ago I copied the Anne Porter poem/prayer on cardstock and sent to my kids. “A Short Testament” is absolutely the perfect poem for this time of quarantine.
I’m wasn’t familiar with Louis Simpson and I’m very glad to be introduced. (FYI, Simpson was b.1923, d. 2012.)
Sharon writes at the end of her post, “For me, poetry is kindness.” I love that. Thank you, Sharon, for your wonderful choices and commentary. (What follows is direct from Sharon)
I took the photos in various areas around Glenmere Lake in Greeley, Colorado. (Staying within COVID19 mandatory parameters!!)
I chose the Mary Oliver poem to encourage whoever found it, to write. Across the street on the west side of the lake is someone’s personal garden which made for a natural venue.
“A Short Testament” I posted on a bench overlooking the lake. I thought it represented how many of us feel under mandatory quarantine—we have time to reflect on our lives and the poem offers language to heal.
A Short Testament
by Anne Porter
Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,
And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,
And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,
Remember them. I beg you to remember them
When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.
“As Birds are Fitted to the Bough” I posted on the trunk of just-beginning-to-blossom crabapple tree boughs. It was a windy spring day when I secured it behind loose bark. The poem spoke to me during quarantine as I worked, rewriting on some personal poems.
As Birds Are Fitted to the Boughs
by Louis Simpson
As birds are fitted to the boughs
That blossom on the tree
And whisper when the south wind blows—
So was my love to me.
And still she blossoms in my mind
And whispers softly, though
The clouds are fitted to the wind,
The wind is to the snow.
A friend who found out I was doing this for your site said “I wish I was lucky enough to be walking around the lake and find these.” People have shown such kindness around the lake during the quarantine—they’ve put out tables of dog biscuits for furry friends, water for walkers, masks for the letter carriers, they’ve made sidewalk chalk inspirations of visual and word art. Now poetry has been added to the mix! I figure since the quarantine is mandatory for us, it’s what we do with it that really matters. For me, poetry is kindness. I want the world to know and feel the healing effects of words/language.
The poem I didn’t yet find a venue for is called “Hoses” by George Bilgere. Again, reflective of life in simpler times. Will we ever again hear the peels of childish laughter ring out as kids run through sprinklers? When will that laughter return? And in the meantime, what’s going on in the lives of children and adults under stay at home orders?
by George Bilgere
I love the hoses of summer
hanging in their green coils
from the sides of houses,
or slithering through lawns
on their way to the cool
meditations of sprinklers.
I think of my father, scotch
in one hand, the dripping hose
in the other, probing the dusk
with water, the world
around him falling apart,
marriage crumbling, booze
running the show.
Still, he liked to walk out
after dinner and water the lawn,
fiddling with the nozzle,
misting this, showering that.
Sometimes, in the hot twilight,
my sisters and I would run
in our swimsuits through the yard
while he followed us
with a cold beam of water.
And once, when my mother
came out to watch, he turned
the hose on her, the two of them
laughing in a way we’d never heard,
a laughter that must have brought them
back to the beginning.
Thanks for your “assignment.” It offered me an opportunity to be creative and to smile as I went about my task.