Thursday, October 25, 2007


From the Archives

(August 2005) Writer’s Almanac features the following:
by Amber Coverdale Sumrall

In your old pickup we drive the length of the island looking for
blackberries and trails that lead to the lighthouse, tell stories
about our six cats, the ones we divided when I left. I took your
favorites, the ones that were mine before we met. Your fifth
marriage is faltering. I am falling in love for the third time since
we separated. All you want to do is fish in your father's rowboat,
build a small cabin on five acres of land. Beyond right now,
I don't know what I want. Somewhere on Orcas another woman
dreams of you, waits for you to enter her life.

We smoke from your well-seasoned pipe, nervous as new
lovers. Those last months I refused to get high with you; we
always fought afterward. I remember why I loved you and why,
after ten years, I left. The reasons blend together, rise with the
smoke and dissipate. You ask me to tell you why, once again.
Each time the story is different, a work in progress. Days pass
in one afternoon. Is there still a chance, you ask.

We smile at one another, our defenses down. No one knows
us better. At the trailhead you pick purple flowers, hand
them to me, suddenly shy. I trip over exposed roots as we walk,
instinctively take your outstretched hand then let it go. In the
lagoon a pair of herons dance for one another, lowering their
long necks in courtship. Hidden behind boulders, we watch in
silence until the birds lift and disappear beyond the lighthouse.
There is always a chance, I say.

I like a few images here, but those exposed roots are more than a little obvious. Ditto instinctively taking his hand.

I have a question though. Can someone tell me exactly what makes this thing a poem because it sure strikes me as three paragraphs of straight narrative. She’s telling a story and makes no use of the line breaks, which are, uh, a basic tool that poets use to further or create meaning. What's gained by using this form as opposed to a paragraph?

The poet may have used another format if she’d read Tuesday’s New York Times article about poet August Kleinzahler, who said “Most poets are shiftless, no account fools.”

(Actually, I believe it was this same poet who publicly criticized Garrison Keillor, the publisher of said Writer’s Almanac, for his middlebrow tastes in verse. Hmmm. It's all making sense now....)

Anyway, here’s my favorite Kleinzahler line: “If you’re a poet, you’ve earned the right to blow off whoever you want.”

(Very fortunate indeed that the New York Times did not drop that second three-letter word while typesetting this line.)

And now, a portion of the Kleinzahler poem “On Waking in a Room and Not Knowing Where One Is”—a poem that does make use of end stops:

In a moment or two you will know
exactly where you are,
on which side of the door,
your wallet, your shoes,
and what today you’ll have to do.
Cities each have a kind of light,
a color even,
or set of undertones
determined by the river or hills
as well as by the stone
of their countless buildings.
I cannot yet recall what city this is I’m in.
It must be close to dawn.

Have been thinking about a couple of things today. First, there’s this argument that we should downgrade Pluto to the status of icy sphere and admit that we were mistaken when we declared it a planet. Does this mean that we can downgrade, oh, idiots like GWB to low-wattage shrubbery and admit that we never should have elected (well) him president too?

I’m in favor of that, but worry that too many of us prefer a bobble-headed jingoistic cowboy for a prez.

(Guess I’ve ranted about that enough though for now though, huh?)

Rob Breszny refers to people whose “good intentions get derailed by modest challenges” as people who suffer from Intention Deficit Disorder. His brother, a realtor, frequently encounters IDD people who “act as if they really want to buy or sell a house, but then never get past the first few fledgling steps toward that end.”

My recent actions surrounding reimbursement of my new bifocal (sob) expenses fall into this category. See I requested the paperwork I need to obtain reimbursement from my vision insurance plan right after I got my glasses. No reply from the benefits office after a few days, so I surfed their site again but still couldn’t find the forms online. Left another voice-mail message, then got busy with deadlines and took a few days off. So now here I sit staring at my receipt, which has been sitting on my desk for over 2 weeks now waiting for me to file it.

The other thing on my mind is the Pacific NW (which I’m still willing to believe I can visit in November, even though financing a car for my mother will probably mean that I can no longer afford the trip).

I love the Pacific NW and am concerned about the news that unusual weather patterns have disrupted the marine ecosystem all the way from CA to BC this year. And scientists don’t know why. Water temperatures are higher than normal, so fish catches are low. Unusual wind conditions have resulted in very little plankton, so dead birds litter the beaches at 4 times the usual rate in some areas.

“The bottom has fallen out of the coastal food chain, and there’s just not enough food out there,” says Julia Parrish (UWA seabird ecologist).

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. I plan to scream at the first SUV driver I see on my lunch break today, but know this means absofuckinglutely nothing. And the measly funds I donate to preserve the place are no match for a president who's loosening the few protections that were in place.

So what exactly do folks believe will happen when the fish and birds die? That we’ll be so preoccupied with our Nintendos or some computer-generated cartoon animals that we’ll fail to notice that the real thing is gone?

I want to go to Whidbey Island and hear the owls. I want to smell Douglas firs. Soon.

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